4 Ways Copper Makes the Earth Greener
18 Apr 2016
By Zolaikha Strong, Director of Sustainable Energy for the Copper Development Association
This Earth Day, an estimated 1 billion people will come together worldwide to celebrate and strengthen the movement to build a sustainable environment, fight climate change and keep the earth green. My guess is that the majority of those billion people are unaware that the world’s oldest metal is already working to keep the earth green. Copper’s inherent properties make it a sustainable material that helps to make the world run more efficiently. This Earth Day, CDA is celebrating all of the ways that copper makes the world greener.
Copper is a highly recyclable material. This is because the metal can be used and reused while still retaining all of its valuable qualities, like conductivity and durability. Nearly all of the copper that has been mined throughout history is still in circulation today, because its recycling rate is higher than that of any other engineering metal. Next time you’re looking at a beautiful copper roof or at the copper wiring that keeps your home’s electricity running, remember that it could be the same copper that was once used by the pharaohs.
2) Copper’s Use in Renewable Energy Technologies
The transition to renewable energy technology is making huge strides in creating a sustainable future and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Solar power, wind energy and energy storage systems harness sustainable and eco-friendly energy; they also rely on copper. In fact, the generation of electricity from wind and solar power requires about four to six times more copper than fossil fuels do. PV solar power systems contain approximately 5.5 tons per MW of copper, while a single wind farm can contain between 4 million and 15 million pounds of the metal. It is also used by these systems for generators, wiring, tubing, cable and step-up transformers. The surrounding infrastructure that connects this technology to the electrical grid also uses copper to run reliably and efficiently.
By utilizing green building practices, architects and designers can ensure that a building is energy efficient, high performing and sustainable. One way of measuring this is through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. Buildings can attain LEED certification by earning points across several areas that address sustainability issues. Some of these points can be earned by using copper as a building material. Use of the metal contributes to achieving LEED credits due to its recyclability, optimal energy performance in wiring systems and other factors. Although not all uses of copper directly apply to LEED credits, all support fundamental objectives to maximize energy efficiency and minimize impact on our environment.
4) Copper’s Energy Efficiency
Copper’s natural properties make it a better conductor of electricity than nearly any other element. Its superior electrical and thermal conductivities increase the energy efficiency of the electric motors, transformers and other systems that rely on copper wiring and cabling. It also keeps these systems running longer and at higher efficiencies. Electric motors power everything from commercial facilities and manufacturing plants to schools and universities. High-efficiency copper motors save money and energy, and help to reduce electrical energy consumption. Transformers carry virtually all electric power in the country before it is consumed. Copper transformers increase energy efficiency and even result in significant savings over the life cycle of a transformer. By utilizing copper for wiring, cabling and other electrical parts, our nation’s electrical systems rely on the metal to stay efficient and to reduce energy consumption.
Copper is used in so many aspects of our lives. It protects our homes and buildings, safely transports our drinking water, and powers our electrical equipment. Its conductivity, durability and recyclability power all of these things reliably and efficiently. Whether copper is powering a wind turbine or helping an electric motor to run efficiently, the metal is contributing invaluably to a greener, more sustainable future.