Copper applications made in Chile

Chile is the largest producer of copper in the world, and the uses of the mineral are widely required in different industries worldwide, as it is an excellent conductor of electricity. And well known are the antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties of copper, which could make this metal the best ally of science and technology to face the contagion capacity of the SARS-CoV-2.

After the recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, which demonstrated the high capacity of the red mineral to eliminate the virus unlike other surfaces, new initiatives are added to know in depth the impact and possible uses of copper to contain the propagation.

Recently a group of researchers from different universities, led by Dr. Aarón Cortés, research coordinator of the Hospital Clínico of the University of Chile, began a study to test the efficacy of copper to eliminate the virus.

“Copper attacks bacteria, fungi and viruses. Any microbe is affected by this metal because what it does is to break the outer capsule that all the viral particles have and that makes the virus inactivate and prevent its reproduction”, explains Cortés, coordinator of the team made up of researchers from the University of Chile and the Los Andes University with the support of the Institute of Public Health.

Now the research has continued to move forward and with the advent of nanotechnology and 3D technology much more can be done. “One thing we have learned in the study on the effect of copper in antiviral terms is that the smaller the particles, the greater the effect. Therefore, putting a copper foil is useful and a good strategy for instruments and accessories in hospitals, handrails, public transport, etc. But if it is possible to put copper nanoparticles in other materials, for example, masks, the effect is much more powerful and much faster when it comes to inactivating the virus”, says Cortés.

Uses of copper to improve the quality of life

In this sense, the project of Copper3D, a Chilean company, stands out. They manufacture all kinds of copper fiber materials to inactivate the virus upon contact: from low-cost, washable, reusable masks printed with material that carries copper nanoparticles, and whose code has been opened for anyone who wants to download it.

The great advantage that these masks with copper alloys could have is that they would deactivate the virus as it is deposited in the mask or through its filters, as it has been shown to do with the strain before Covid-19, which effectively remained destroyed on contact with the mask.

In Chile, companies that take advantage of the antimicrobial properties of the red metal have emerged to manufacture sportswear and uniforms for miners, as well as equipment for health workers, such as The Copper Company, who sell nano-copper masks, or Monarch company, which created socks from this material. Even costumes for children and newborns have been created by the BabyCu company, all of them are Chilean innovations that could be vital to fight the virus.

Other initiatives associated with the use of copper are the creation of copper hospital surfaces such as bed rails or handrails used in the ICU Room of the Hospital del Cobre, which are added to the use of surfaces of this metal in the offices of the Investigative Police in Migration from Santiago Airport, or the access turnstiles to the games of the Fantasilandia amusement park.

Faced with this scenario that shows how new uses of copper will improve the life quality of millions of people, it is worth asking if it is not time to move beyond the isolated efforts of a few companies, being the main producer of the red metal. Opening a debate around the feasibility of developing a local industry for copper foil or copper nanoparticles does not seem crazy. Just look at Corfo’s effort around the lithium value chain.

In this sense, at least three elements are identified that must be present in this debate: i) The effects on demand for our raw materials and in particular copper; ii) To promote the development of new industries of high value and technological content taking advantage of the existing productive and technological base; and iii) To position the copper industry as a strategic material for a sustainable and healthy world.