Copper Mining Coming To The Fore In Australia
Copper mining doesn`t have as much glamour associated with it as gold, silver and diamond mining, but copper is actually the most significant of the precious metals mined by man. It has been mined far longer than any other substance and its continuing use in various critical applications makes it extremely important. Recognising this impact, Australia has gradually moved to the forefront when in it comes to copper production.
First mined in Neolithic times, copper has had a number of uses over time, starting with being shaped into tools. Its malleability and heat resistance are just two of the qualities that make it such a valuable resource. Today it is employed primarily in electronics and plumbing fixtures. It can be shaped into fine wires or used to form water resistant piping, all of which make it highly sought after.
There have been several significant copper deposits discovered throughout Australia. The largest copper mining centres are at Olympic Dam in South Australia and Mt. Isa in Queensland. Unlike other countries involved in the mining of copper, Australia`s facilities are almost entirely underground. The largest producer of copper annually is the mine at Mt. Isa, which also produces significant annual tonnage of lead, zinc and silver.
Australia ranks third in the world in terms of the percentage of economic copper resources, with 6%. This puts it just behind Chile and the U.S. In terms of production, Australia ranks fifth but it is continually expanding its reach each year as the demand for copper increases worldwide.
Traditionally, copper mining involves breaking up the slabs of ore and then bringing them to the surface to be crushed. After being finely ground, the ore is then put through a flotation process to separate out the usable mineral from the gangue, or waste material. The usable mineral is then sent to large furnaces called smelters to be further refined.
There are various smelting processes that can be used to extract the ore, and they can differ from one mining operation to another. The large mine at Olympic Dam uses a flash smelter, others use more complicated methods. Copper is also alloyed with other metals including Brass and Bronze, which gives it special properties that make it useful for particular applications.
Because it is such a good conductor of electricity, copper is mainly used these days for electrical generators, light fixtures, wiring and various types of electrical products such as TV`s and computers. As energy needs increase globally, the demand for copper continues to rise and copper mining has become a much more significant industry.
Through it all, Australia maintains its strong footing in the mining industry in general and in copper mining in particular. The large mining concerns continue to expand their operations, even developing small towns and communities to house employees. As long as copper remains a valuable resource, Australian mining will stay at the forefront, providing for a brighter future.