Copper Cathodes

Description / Application

Individual cathode sheets are manufactured to different dimensions by different suppliers in the range of 0,5 m2 to 1 m2 and 3 to 20 mm thick, with or without ‘ears’. Copper cathode is the primary raw material input for the production of copper rod for the wire and cable industry. Copper is also used in the production of brass, copper tube, copper sheet products, and found in over 450 alloys.

Copper cathodes are used as a raw material feed for the production of high purity copper and copper alloy products. It is therefore essential that, during shipping and transportation, they are not contaminated with any extraneous materials.

Copper Production from Ore to Finished Product
From its original home buried underground in a mine to its use in a finished product such as wire or pipe, copper passes through a number of stages. When it is recycled it can pass through some over and over again. Below is a quick description of the path.

1. Mining, Crushing
The beginning for all copper is to mine sulfide and oxide ores through digging or blasting and then crushing it to walnut-sized pieces.

2. Grinding
Crushed ore is ball or rod-milled in large, rotating, cylindrical machines until it becomes a powder usually containing less than 1 percent copper. Sulfide ores are moved to a concentrating stage, while oxide ores are routed to leaching tanks.

3. Concentrating
Minerals are concentrated into a slurry that is about 15% copper. Waste slag is removed. Water is recycled. Tailings (left-over earth) containing copper oxide are routed to leaching tanks or are returned to the surrounding terrain. Once copper has been concentrated it can be turned into pure copper cathode in two different ways: Leaching & electrowinning or smelting and electrolytic refining.

4a. Leaching
Oxide ore and tailings are leached by a weak acid solution, producing a weak copper sulfate solution.

5a. Electrowinning (SX/EW)
The copper-laden solution is treated and transferred to an electrolytic process tank. When electrically charged, pure copper ions migrate directly from the solution to starter cathodes made from pure copper foil. Precious metals can be extracted from the solution.


4b. Smelting
Several stages of melting and purifying the copper content result, successively, in matte, blister and, finally, 99% pure copper. Recycled copper begins its journey to finding another use by being resmelted.

5b. Electrolytic Refining
Anodes cast from the nearly pure copper are immersed in an acid bath. Pure copper ions migrate electrolytically from the anodes to “starter sheets” made from pure copper foil where they deposit and build up into a 300-pound cathode. Gold, silver and platinum may be recovered from the used bath.

6. Pure Copper Cathodes
Cathodes of 99.9% purity may be shipped as melting stock to mills or foundries. Cathodes may also be cast into wire rod, billets, cakes or ingots, generally, as pure copper or alloyed with other metals.

7. Cathode is converted into:
Wire Rod – Coiled rod about 1/2″ in diameter is drawn down by wire mills to make pure copper wire of all gages.
Billet – 30′ logs, about 8″ diameter, of pure copper are sawed into these shorter lengths which are extruded and then drawn as tube, rod and bar stock of many varied sizes and shapes. Rod stock may be used for forging.
Cake – Slabs of pure copper, generally about 8″ thick and up to 28′ long, may be hot- and cold-rolled to produce plate, sheet, strip and foil.
Ingot – Bricks of pure copper may be used by mills for alloying with other metals or used by foundries for casting.

Shipment / Storage / Risk factors

Bundles of cathode sheets of between 1 and 4 tonnes and held together by steel strapping are shipped unpackaged. Care should be exercised during handling to avoid straps breaking which cause the bundles to become unstable with potential separation and loss of some sheets.

Electrolytic copper cathodes are usually bought upon a weight basis, and are normally shipped unpacked, often bound together with metal bands. During handling of bundled cathodes, care should be taken that rough handling does not cause breakage of metal bands.

It is quite common for cathodes to have surface excrescences arising out of the process of manufacture, in the nature of small ‘pimples or warts’. Handling in the course of transit may result in these surface irregularities being broken down and the cathodes delivered with a smooth surface. This may result in a difference between shipped and delivered weights. Cathodes are manufactured with ‘ears’ for hanging purposes and frequently these ‘ears’ are knocked off, resulting in further loss of weight.

When over-stowed, care should be taken that other cargo does not cause deleterious contamination of the copper.

Copper and copper alloy products

Description / Shipment and Storage / Risk factors

Copper is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; a freshly exposed surface has a reddish-orange color. It is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, a building material, and a constituent of various metal alloys.

Numerous copper alloys exist, many with important uses. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Bronze usually refers to copper-tin alloys, but can refer to any alloy of copper such as aluminium bronze. Copper is one of the most important constituents of carat silver and gold alloys and carat solders used in the jewellery industry, modifying the colour, hardness and melting point of the resulting alloys.

The alloy of copper and nickel, called cupronickel, is used in low-denomination statuary coins, often for the outer cladding. The US 5-cent coin called nickel consists of 75% copper and 25% nickel and has a homogeneous composition. The 90% copper/10% nickel alloy is remarkable by its resistance to corrosion and is used in various parts being exposed to seawater. Alloys of copper with aluminium (about 7%) have a pleasant golden colour and are used in decorations. Copper alloys with tin are part of lead-free solders.

Copper and copper alloy products include sheet, strip, tube, wire, other wrought shapes and castings. When thin and of a high surface, scratches, gougings, tears, etc., may ruin de product to the extent of the damaged area. Sea-water and fresh water produce stains, and sea water may give rise to some corrosion. If stains are superficial, the product can be used, but if rough and pitted, the material may be rejected. Slight corrosion by general atmospheric conditions may also occur. Manufacturing defects in castings, such as scabbiness, roughness or folds (‘pinches’), can be readily identified, as these cannot be produced by rough handling or by corrosion in transit.

Surface defects to cast or wrought products, apart from corrosion pits, scratches and dents, can usually be attributed to faulty manufacture. Scabbiness is caused by the metal splashing when it is poured into the mould and cooling in droplets on the side. An oxide film is formed around these droplets which prevents them uniting with the rest of the metal in the ingot. Roughness is caused by the ingot sticking to the mould, causing a tearing of the surface on removal. Folds (‘pinches’) are caused in casting with too low a pouring rate, allowing a series of oxide films to be formed. All three defects originate in a faulty ingot and the faults remain because of the inability of oxidized surfaces to weld together.

Superficial staining or light corrosion to wrought products may be removed by the use of mild abrasives, and provided the product is not made to accurate dimensions, scratches, etc., may also be polished out with an abrasive. Solutions containing ammonia should not be used for cleaning.


The major applications of copper are in electrical wires (60%), roofing and plumbing (20%) and industrial machinery (15%). Copper is mostly used as a metal, but when a higher hardness is required it is combined with other elements to make an alloy (5% of total use) such as brass and bronze. A small part of copper supply is used in production of compounds for nutritional supplements and fungicides in agriculture. Machining of copper is possible, although it is usually necessary to use an alloy for intricate parts to get good machinability characteristics.

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