Antimicrobial Copper: The Germ-fighting Metal
Copper has a wide range of uses in electronics, infrastructure, and energy technologies. The red metal is virtually everywhere, from the wires in our devices to the buildings we live in.
However, copper’s medicinal applications, which go back thousands of years, aren’t as widespread in the modern world.
In this infographic from our sponsor Trilogy Metals, we explore copper’s ability to fight bacteria and its expanding role in modern healthcare.
Dr. Copper: How Copper Fights Germs
Copper is naturally antimicrobial, and ancient civilizations recognized this property. The Egyptian Smith Papyrus recorded copper’s first medical use thousands of years ago. Since then, several generations have passed down their knowledge about copper’s medicinal uses.
But how does copper kill germs?
According to the Copper Development Association, copper surfaces affect bacteria in a series of sequential steps:
#1: Breaching the Cell
Every bacterium’s outer cell membrane is characterized by an electrical micro-current, known as the “transmembrane potential”. It is suspected that when a bacterium is exposed to a copper surface, it leads to a short-circuiting of the current in the cell membrane, which weakens the membrane and creates holes.
Localized oxidation is another mechanism by which copper breaches bacterial cells. This occurs when a copper ion comes into contact with a protein or fatty acid from the bacterium’s cell membrane in the presence of oxygen, which causes oxidative damage to the cell membrane.
#2: Disrupting Cell Function
Once copper breaches the cell membrane, essential nutrients start leaking out of the cell. Simultaneously, an increasing number of copper ions enter the cell and obstruct essential metabolic activity. This reaction is catalyzed by enzymes, and as excess copper binds to the enzymes, their activity grinds to a halt.
#3: Eliminating the Germ
With an overwhelming amount of copper ions obstructing the bacterium’s metabolism, it cannot “breathe”, “eat”, or “create energy”, which effectively eliminates the bacterium.
Over 500 antimicrobial copper alloys are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This means that antimicrobial copper alloys passed the EPA’s performance standard for antimicrobial efficacy of solid touch surfaces, and it’s safe to say that antimicrobial copper kills 99.9% of certain bacteria within two hours. But this does not tell the full story.
The true value of antimicrobial copper lies in its ability to kill bacteria continuously after repeated contamination events. This means that antimicrobial copper provides continuous protection against bacteria without wearing out.
However, the EPA notes that the use of a copper surface is not a substitute for standard infection control practices, and copper alloys do not necessarily prevent cross-contamination. Hence, users must continue to follow current infection control practices, including cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces.
Copper vs. COVID-19
High-touch surfaces play a major role in spreading COVID-19, and copper can help stop the spread.
According to a study from the New England Journal of Medicine, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can live up to three days on plastics, compared to four hours on copper surfaces. Additionally, based on testing against harder-to-kill viruses, the EPA expects antimicrobial copper surfaces to eliminate 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2 within two hours.
Copper’s ability to fight bacteria and germs enables antimicrobial applications across several industries.
The Applications of Antimicrobial Copper
From healthcare to transportation, virtually every sector can improve hygiene by installing antimicrobial copper on high-touch surfaces.
For example, a trial by TransLink, Teck Resources Ltd., and Vancouver Coastal Health found that copper kills up to 99.9% of bacteria on high-touch surfaces in public transit vehicles. This suggests that simply installing antimicrobial copper on handrails, door handles, and poles can provide people additional protection against germs.
In addition, copper can make for a highly effective antimicrobial surface in healthcare settings where the risk of infection is higher. A study by Schmidt et al., published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology Journal, found that hospital beds with copper surfaces harbored 95% fewer bacteria than conventional beds.
Furthermore, sports facilities, airports, and restaurants have also made use of antimicrobial copper as a protective layer. As more industries recognize copper’s antimicrobial properties, its applications will likely continue to grow.
A New Meaning for Dr. Copper?
Thousands of years after the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, copper’s medicinal properties are resurfacing.
With rising awareness around hygiene practices, especially in healthcare settings, the market for antimicrobial coatings is expanding. Given copper’s effectiveness in eliminating harmful bacteria, the term “Doctor Copper” may find a new meaning as its antimicrobial uses grow.
Smashing Atoms: The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power
Nuclear power is among the world’s cleanest sources of energy, but how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?
The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power
Uranium has been around for millennia, but we only recently began to understand its unique properties.
Today, the radioactive metal fuels hundreds of nuclear reactors, enabling carbon-free energy generation across the globe. But how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?
The above infographic from the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust outlines the history of nuclear energy and highlights the role of uranium in producing clean energy.
From Discovery to Fission: Uncovering Uranium
Just like all matter, the history of uranium and nuclear energy can be traced back to the atom.
Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, first discovered uranium in 1789 by extracting it from a mineral called “pitchblende”. He named uranium after the then newly discovered planet, Uranus. But the history of nuclear power really began in 1895 when German engineer Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays and radiation, kicking off a series of experiments and discoveries—including that of radioactivity.
In 1905, Albert Einstein set the stage for nuclear power with his famous theory relating mass and energy, E = mc2. Roughly 35 years later, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman confirmed his theory by firing neutrons into uranium atoms, which yielded elements lighter than uranium. According to Einstein’s theory, the mass lost during the reaction changed into energy. This demonstrated that fission—the splitting of one atom into lighter elements—had occurred.
“Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today.”
—Winston Churchill, 1955.
Following the discovery of fission, scientists worked to develop a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. In 1939, a team of French scientists led by Frédéric Joliot-Curie demonstrated that fission can cause a chain reaction and filed the first patent on nuclear reactors.
Later in 1942, a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard set off the first nuclear chain reaction through the Chicago Pile-1. Interestingly, they built this makeshift reactor using graphite bricks on an abandoned squash court in the University of Chicago.
These experiments proved that uranium could produce energy through fission. However, the first peaceful use of nuclear fission did not come until 1951, when Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1) in Idaho generated the first electricity sourced from nuclear power.
The Power of the Atom: Nuclear Power and Clean Energy
Nuclear reactors harness uranium’s properties to generate energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. While uranium’s radioactivity makes it unique, it has three other properties that stand out:
- Material Density: Uranium has a density of 19.1g/cm3, making it one of the densest metals on Earth. For reference, it is nearly as heavy (and dense) as gold.
- Abundance: At 2.8 parts per million, uranium is approximately 700 times more abundant than gold, and 37 times more abundant than silver.
- Energy Density: Uranium is extremely energy-dense. A one-inch tall uranium pellet contains the same amount of energy as 120 gallons of oil.
Thanks to its high energy density, the use of uranium fuel makes nuclear power more efficient than other energy sources. This includes renewables like wind and solar, which typically require much more land (and more units) to generate the same amount of electricity as a single nuclear reactor.
But nuclear power offers more than just a smaller land footprint. It’s also one of the cleanest and most reliable energy sources available today, poised to play a major role in the energy transition.
The Future of Uranium and Nuclear Power
Although nuclear power is often left out of the clean energy conversation, the ongoing energy crisis has brought it back into focus.
Several countries are going nuclear in a bid to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while building reliable energy grids. For example, nuclear power is expected to play a prominent role in the UK’s plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Furthermore, Japan recently approved restarts at three of its nuclear reactors after initially phasing out nuclear power following the Fukushima accident.
The resurgence of nuclear power, in addition to reactors that are already under construction, will likely lead to higher demand for uranium—especially as the world embraces clean energy.
Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining
Canadian gold mining has grown to become a highly prolific industry, thanks to its geological riches and political stability.
Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining
Gold mining has long played an integral role in shaping Canada’s cities and its modern day economy. The gold mining infrastructure that was built alongside the country’s towns in the 19th century has grown to provide $21.6 billion worth of exports for Canada in 2020.
When combined with the country’s superb geology, Canada’s jurisdictional strengths make it one of the most prolific and secure locations in the world for mining companies to explore, develop, and produce gold.
This infographic sponsored by Clarity Gold dives into how Canada has grown into a nation built for gold mining. Both in how the country facilitates the production of gold, and how the gold mining industry supports Canada’s economy and local communities.
Canada’s Golden Geology and Production
Gold is scattered across the Canadian landscape in a variety of gold mining regions and districts, with the most prolific located between Ontario and Québec.
The 2 billion year-old Archean greenstone belt that arcs through the centre of the Canadian shield provides the foundation for the Abitibi gold belt, which has produced more than 190Moz of gold.
|Gold Mining District/Region||Provinces/Territories||Gold Produced (million troy ounces)|
|Abitibi Greenstone Belt||Ontario and Québec||>190Moz|
|Trans-Hudson Corridor||Saskatchewan and Manitoba||>40Moz|
|Golden Triangle||British Columbia||>5Moz|
Source: Resource World
The Trans-Hudson corridor in Saskatchewan and Manitoba has produced more than 40Moz of gold, while the Red Lake mining district of eastern Ontario and the Golden Triangle in British Columbia have delivered >30Moz and >5Moz respectively.
Last year, Canada’s top 10 mines produced 3.26 million ounces of gold combined, equating to more than $6 billion worth of the yellow precious metal.
|Mine||Province/Territory||Primary Owner/Operator||2020 Gold Production (thousand troy ounces)|
|Canadian Malartic||Québec||Yamana/Agnico Eagle||569Koz|
|Detour Lake||Ontario||Kirkland Lake||517Koz|
|LaRonde (incl. LZ5)||Québec||Agnico Eagle||350Koz|
|Rainy River||Ontario||New Gold||229Koz|
Ontario and Québec are the powerhouse provinces of Canadian gold production, hosting 30 mines between the two provinces.
A Nation Built for Gold Mining
Canada’s politically secure nature and established permitting process has resulted in five of the 10 largest gold mining companies having projects in Canada. Three Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan, Québec, and Newfoundland & Labrador) are among the world’s 10 most attractive mining investment jurisdictions according to the Fraser Institute’s 2020 survey of mining companies.
Beyond the legal and permitting strengths of the nation, Canada’s extensive network of capital markets has enabled the Canadian companies to dominate the world’s gold mining industry. With Agnico Eagle and Kirkland Lake’s upcoming merger, three of the world’s top five gold mining companies will be headquartered in Canada.
The Canadian equity markets are a key driver of the world’s gold exploration and development funding, with the TSX having raised $7.5 billion in mining equity capital in 2020. Gold still remains the major driver of these money flows, with gold mining companies making up more than half of Canada’s mining exploration budget.
How Gold Mining Gives Back to Canada
Ever since the first discoveries of gold across Canada in the 1800s, the development and production of gold mines has been the foundation for many towns and merchants across the nation.
Today, Canada’s mining industry directly employs more than 392,000 Canadians, with the sector offering the highest average annual industrial rate of pay in the country at $123,000. The industry is also proportionally the largest private sector employer of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
From the nation’s prolific gold deposits to its network of funding through robust public markets for mining equities, gold mining has grown into one of Canada’s most important strengths. The discovery, development, and production of the precious metal will remain an essential pillar of Canada’s economy.
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