Innovations in copper: Chile adds value to natural resource

It’s antimicrobial, highly malleable and entirely recyclable, and Chilean scientists and engineers are applying it to everything from fish traps to hospitals. 

Not content with being the world’s largest producer of copper, Chile is leading the charge to develop innovative uses for the versatile metal, adding value to its most lucrative export item.
“Copper is not only valuable as a conductor in electrical circuits, it also has other attributes: its high malleability, bactericidal properties and infinite capacity for recycling, among other characteristics,” said Jennyfer Salvo, director of communications at the Fundación Imagen de Chile.
“All of this makes the red metal a key material for future changes to modern life, and our country is leading this innovation at a world level.”
And those changes could touch on everything from socks and jocks to emergency wards.
Over the last few years Chile’s Codelco – the biggest copper producing company in the world – has invested more than US$10 million into its research and innovation subsidiary, INCuBA, charged with designing new applications for copper that exploit its unique attributes.
One of its first success stories was copper socks.
“INCuBA has established an alliance with Textil Copper Andino, who have developed and patented a polymer with biocidal properties, which is transformed primarily into yarn for textile and nonwoven fabric. This allows the elimination of fungi, bacteria, viruses and mites that come in contact with the surface,” said Julio Rojas, deputy manager of market development at Codelco.
Or more simply, the sock stays cleaner, and smells less than non-copper varieties.
With the success of its sock line the company is now developing bed linens, towels and clothing, and other textile products.
But it’s not just fabrics – INCuBA is working in fields as diverse as aquaculture, energy and public health.
Through EcoSea, for example, the copper company has designed copper cages for the country’s booming salmon industry, which create a habitat free of parasites and pathogens. Not only does this benefit the fish and consumers, it’s a win for the environment, as it means that chemicals controls aren’t required.
To read about how copper is being used to save lives in Chilean hospitals, click here.