Satellites Provide Copper Supply Data

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Copper is one of the world’s most widely used metals, so accurate supply data is of the utmost importance. According to the website Savant, access to accurate, reliable, and timely data on global copper smelting activity is a challenge because the data is collected from a variety of potentially unreliable sources; data can be difficult to access due to local and country restrictions and commercial operator secrecy; and by the time all this data is collected, it is often out of date.

Mining.com reports on a potential solution to this issue. Geospatial intelligence company Earth-i, in collaboration with UK-based commodities broker Marex Spectron and the European Space Agency are launching a satellites-based service monitoring the up-to-date operational status of up to 90% of the world’s copper smelters. The SAVANT Global Copper Smelting Index aims to fill existing gaps in copper supply data, which currently comes from multiple sources and tend to lack of details or come in incompatible formats. The new service combines satellite imagery with artificial intelligence and machine learning to produce its data.

Data on copper usage can be found in the USGS 2017 Mineral Commodity Summary on Copper:

  • Refined copper and scrap were used at about 30 brass mills, 13 rod mills, and 500 foundries and miscellaneous consumers. Copper and copper alloy products were used in building construction, 44%; transportation equipment, 19%; electric and electronic products, 18%; consumer and general products, 12%; and industrial machinery and equipment, 7%.
  • Old scrap, converted to refined metal and alloys, provided 170,000 tons of copper, equivalent to 9% of apparent consumption. Purchased new scrap, derived from fabricating operations, yielded 640,000 tons of contained copper. Of the total copper recovered from scrap (including aluminium- and nickel-based scrap), brass mills recovered 73%; copper smelters, refiners, and ingot makers, 21%; and miscellaneous manufacturers, foundries, and chemical plants, 6%. Copper in all scrap contributed about 31% of the U.S. copper supply.

Copper has been an extremely useful metal throughout history thanks to its high thermal and electrical conductivity. Today about half of the world’s production of copper is for electrical requirements. Another reason why copper is so widely used is because it can be recycled indefinitely without losing any of its chemical or physical properties. Recycled, or secondary, copper is indistinguishable from primary copper, and the production process consumes much less energy. According to CopperAlliance.org, 75% of copper produced since 1900 is still in use.

Using recycled metals is becoming more prevalent so manufacturers must analyse incoming raw materials carefully to ensure the elements in the materials will not be detrimental to the product, or ultimately their brand.  To ensure they are shipping quality products, portable XRF analysers can be utilised throughout the facilities to inspect all incoming metals against paperwork, for quality checks upon receipt of the raw material scrap, and for final analysis of the finished product before the material leaves the facility.

Source: Thermo Fisher Scientific – Analyzing Metals

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