China has in the past decade seen annual growth rates of around 25% for the production and consumption of copper and copper base powders. According to an article by Jingguo Zhang, et al (Beijing General Research Institute for Nonferrous Metals and GRIPM Advanced Materials) published in Powder Metallurgy (Vol 57, No 5 December 2014), China produced around 45,000 tonnes of copper and Cu-base powders in 2012 which represents 40% of the world’s total. Europe is said to have 25% of global market share, North America 20% and the rest 15%.
Main application areas for Cu powders include diamond tools, friction materials, carbon brushes, self-lubricating bearings, structural powder metallurgy components, and Metal Injection Moulded (MIM) parts.
In terms of tonnage consumption of Cu and Cu-based powders for the individual areas in China, diamond tools used around 9,000 tonnes in 2012, followed by friction materials at 5,000 tonnes, carbon brushes (mainly electrolytic grades) 4,000 tonnes, and Cu powder used in MIM at around 4,500 tonnes. The main MIM application is for heat sinks (or heat pipes) produced at a number of plants in China and also Taiwan.
Production routes for copper powders in China include electrolysis (ten producers), water and gas atomisation (>50 producers), hydrometallurgy, and crushing/grinding.