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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004-1395

Flows of Selected Materials Associated with World Copper Smelting

Published 2005
Online only
Version 1.0

Thomas G. Goonan


The U.S. Geological Survey collects, analyzes, and disseminates information about the material flows associated with mineral extraction and use. This publication focuses on the flows associated with the smelting of copper concentrates. Copper is one of the core commodities in modern and developing economies. One cost paid for placing it in service is the significant, though manageable, set of environmental effects associated with the smelting process.

Through a detailed assessment of smelting technologies, covering approximately two-thirds of world capacity, this research quantifies the unwanted by-products associated with copper production. The conversion of one kilogram (kg) of copper concentrate from its in-ground condition (ore) into economic service generates an average landscape footprint comprised of 210 kg of mine waste, 113 kg of mill tailings, 2 kg of slag, and 2.3 kg of sulfur-bearing co-product. The corresponding air releases per kg of copper include 0.5 kg of carbon dioxide and 0.2 kg of sulfur dioxide.

Because copper concentrates are a traded worldwide, the ecological footprint described above can be allocated among the countries that smelt and export copper and to the countries that import and use it. This report also highlights the relationship between exporting and importing countries.


This report is available in Adobe Acrobat format.

Open-File Report 2004-1395 [5.4-MB PDF].

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For scientific questions or comments concerning this report, contact Thomas G. Goonan.

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