Copper and Society

copper conductivity renewable energy systems environment

Copper and the Environment

Copper is a naturally-occurring element. It is present in the earth's crust, in oceans, lakes and rivers, from minute trace element levels through to rich mine deposits. Far from being harmful, it is essential to life – plants, fish, animals and humans all need copper to function properly. 

Copper is naturally present in all environments

Copper and the environment go hand in hand, as it can be found naturally in all waters, sediments and soils. In fact, if a soil contains insufficient levels of copper, it cannot sustain productive arable farming. The world's two most important food crops – rice and wheat – will not thrive in copper-deficient soil, leading to losses in yield and lower-quality outputs.

In Europe, 18 million hectares of cultivated soils (equivalent to 19% of arable land) are believed to be deficient in bio-available copper. To compensate for this, it is common practice to replenish soils with copper-enriched fertilisers and copper sulphate treatments. 

Copper is natural, fully recyclable, corrosion resistant, durable and antimicrobial. It is not persistent, bio-accumulative, or toxic to the environment under normal conditions of use. A comprehensive risk assessment – voluntarily undertaken by the copper industry, and covering the production, use and end-of-life aspects of the copper metal value chain – shows that the existing legislative framework generally safeguards Europe’s environment, the health of industry workers and the general public. 

Copper helps to reduce harmful carbon emissions

Europe’s sustainable energy future depends on a partnership between energy efficiency and renewable energy. The more efficiently energy services are delivered, the faster renewable energy can become an effective and significant contributor in primary energy production.

Copper is an essential material in building the energy systems of the future. It plays an important role in renewable energy systems, such as solar, wind, tidal, hydro, biomass, and geothermal. Copper is the most highly rated thermal and electrical conductor among the metals used in infrastructure and product design. Power systems utilising copper generate, transmit and use energy with higher efficiency, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and optimising life-cycle costs.

Bioavailability of Copper and the Water Framework Directive

Copper is naturally present in the aquatic environment, but can also be released to it as a consequence of industrial manufacturing, consumer use and recycling. In Europe, the risks posed by copper to the aquatic environment are managed by legislation including REACH and the Water Framework Directive.

Accounting for the bioavailability of copper, using techniques such as the Biotic Ligand Model, resolves many of the difficulties.

We invite you to visit bio-met.net, a free online resource for anybody interested in using bioavailability-based approaches for assessing the risk of copper in the freshwater aquatic environment, particularly within the EU Water Framework Directive. This is a collaborative initiative led by the European Copper InstituteInternational Zinc Association and the Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association (NiPERA).

bio-met.net is intended as a one-stop shop of information, software and guidance and is currently focused on copper, nickel and zinc. Click on the 'More' button to access the online tool.



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Copper and Carbon

Increasing the diameter of a copper conductor can reduce harmful carbon emissions. Associated benefits may include high environmental payback factors, reductions in system life cycle costs and 100% end-of life recyclability.

Did you know that the average percentage of copper in the earth's crust is 0.005%?

Copper is present in the earth's crust, in oceans, lakes and rivers, from minute trace element levels through to rich mine deposits.

copper ore

Environmental Quality Standards For Metals


The below video is mainly targeting the non-specialist audience from both regulators and industry and is aiming to bring across the message in a visually attractive way of the importance metal bioavailability could have in the context of regulatory compliance. Its purpose is to demonstrate the scientific principles of metal bioavailability, how this can be used to calculate site-specific Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) or bioavailable metal concentrations and how environmental compliance can be achieved in a tiered approach. 
Source: Eurometaux/Arche
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