Copper's potential in antimicrobial applications could be trumped by cost

Oct 01, 2009 | 09:31 AM |

Having lost significant market share in recent years to lighter-weight and lower-cost aluminum, copper is ready for a rebound. But while proponents of the antimicrobial metal hope that someday every hospital wing, locker room and air conditioner interior will glow red, some metals analysts aren't so sure.

"I think there's a component of wishful thinking there," said Jorge Vazquez, an aluminum analyst at Harbor Intelligence. Although copper has been shown to exhibit germ-killing properties that could make it a tempting substitute for other materials, with such a high price tag the metal will be hard-pressed to make a mark on aluminum's turf, he said. "Aluminum-vs.-copper price competitiveness has increased considerably in the past five years. Aluminum is becoming cheaper and cheaper compared to copper."

Copper averaged $ 6,164 a tonne in August on the London Metal Exchange, more than three times its lighter-weight counterpart.

Max Layton, a commodities analyst at Macquarie Securities, said fundamentals were largely behind copper's higher pricing point relative to that of aluminum. "Both prices have increased, but copper has increased far more over the past six months, and the main reason is that copper has a much lesser ability to respond to changes (in demand)," he said. "The copper price collapsed and you saw 600,000 tonnes of price-related cuts, and I think maybe only half of that will come back given the recent price rally, whereas in aluminum, it's in massive oversupply and that's reflected in the prices."....

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