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Copper analysis

Choosing a copper analytical method

The method you choose depends on the stage of your project and your goals. Greenfields exploration using trace element pathfinders generally require the sensitivity and range of ICP-MS methods. Approaches via ICP-AES are suitable for ore body drilling where trace element composition is also required. For more mineralised samples such as massive sulphide ores and concentrates, ICP-AES, XRF and classical chemistry methods are offered.

Análise de cobre

Exploration samples

Geochemical exploration for copper generally uses multi-element methods that produce large suites of trace-elements. These methods are effective as they are useful for not only identifying areas of anomalous copper but also for normalising values against the matrix composition and producing more robust multi-element anomalies. Multi-element geochemistry in residual soil has also been used to map underlying geology.

Detection limits available

ALS offer a range of detection limits for multi-element packages by either aqua regia digestion (method codes with 41) or four-acid digestion (method codes with 61). Our super- trace methods are described in the generative exploration section.

Method appropriate for different concentration ranges

Digest Super Trace Elements Trace Elements Low Grade Mineralised
Aqua Regia ME-MS41L™
53 elements
0.01ppm - 1% Cu
51 elements
0.2ppm - 1% Cu
35 elements
1ppm - 1% Cu
34 elements
5ppm - 5% Cu
Four Acid ME-MS61L™
48 elements
0.02ppm - 1% Cu
48 elements
0.2ppm - 1% Cu
33 elements
1ppm - 1% Cu
33 elements
10ppm - 10% Cu
Fusion ME-ICP81
16 elements
20ppm - 30% Cu

Trace-level aqua regia method – ME-MS41™

Code Analytes & ranges (ppm)
0.5g sample
Ag 0.01-100 Cs 0.05-500 Mo 0.05-10,000 Sr 0.2-10,000
Al 0.01-25% Cu 0.2-10,000 Na 0.01%-10% Ta 0.01-500
As 0.1-10,000 Fe 0.01%-50% Nb 0.05-500 Te 0.01-500
Au* 0.02-25 Ga 0.05-10,000 Ni 0.2-10,000 Th 0.2-10,000
B 10-10,000 Ge 0.05-500 P 10-10,000 Ti 0.005%-10%
Ba 10-10,000 Hf 0.02-500 Pb 0.2-10,000 Tl 0.02-10,000
Be 0.05-1,000 Hg 0.01-10,000 Rb 0.1-10,000 U 0.05-10,000
Bi 0.01-10,000 In 0.005-500 Re 0.001-50 V 1-10,000
Ca 0.01%-25% K 0.01%-10% S 0.01%-10% W 0.05-10,000
Cd 0.01-1,000 La 0.2-10,000 Sb 0.05-10,000 Y 0.05-500
Ce 0.02-500 Li 0.1-10,000 Sc 0.1-10,000 Zn 2-10,000
Co 0.1-10,000 Mg .01%-25% Se 0.2-1,000 Zr 0.5-500
Cr 1-10,000 Mn 5-50,000 Sn 0.2-500

Trace-level four acid method – ME-MS61™

Code Analytes & ranges (ppm)
0.25g sample
Ag 0.01-100 Cu 0.2-10,000 Na 0.01%-10% Sr 0.2-10,000
Al 0.01%-50% Fe 0.01%-50% Nb 0.1-500 Ta 0.05-500
As 0.2-10,000 Ga 0.05-10,000 Ni 0.2-10,000 Te 0.05-500
Ba 10-10,000 Ge 0.05-500 P 10-10,000 Th 0.01-10,000
Be 0.05-1,000 Hf 0.1-500 Pb 0.5-10,000 Ti 0.005%-10%
Bi 0.01-10,000 In 0.005-500 Rb 0.1-10,000 Tl 0.02-10,000
Ca 0.01%-50% K 0.01%-10% Re 0.002-50 U 0.1-10,000
Cd 0.02-1,000 La 0.5-10,000 S 0.01%-10% V 1-10,000
Ce 0.01-500 Li 0.2-10,000 Sb 0.05-10,000 W 0.1-10,000
Co 0.1-10,000 Mg 0.01%-50% Sc 0.1-10,000 Y 0.1-500
Cr 1-10,000 Mn 5-100,000 Se 1-1,000 Zn 2-10,000
Cs 0.05-500 Mo 0.05-10,000 Sn 0.2-500 Zr 0.5-500

Low-level aqua regia method – ME-ICP41

Code Analytes & ranges (ppm)
0.5g sample
Ag 0.2-100 Co 1-10,000 Mg 0.01%-25% Sc 1-10,000
Al 0.01%-25% Cr 1-10,000 Mn 5-50,000 Sr 1-10,000
As 2-10,000 Cu 1-10,000 Mo 1-10,000 Th 20-10,000
B 10-10,000 Fe 0.01%-50% Na 0.01%-10% Ti 0.01%-10%
Ba 10-10,000 Ga 10-10,000 Ni 1-10,000 Tl 10-10,000
Be 0.5-1,000 Hg 1-10,000 P 10-10,000 U 10-10,000
Bi 2-10,000 K 0.01%-10% Pb 2-10,000 V 1-10,000
Ca 0.01%-25% Li 10-10,000 S 0.01%-10% W 10-10,000
Cd 0.5-1,000 La 10-10,000 Sb 2-10,000 Zn 2-10,000

Low-level four acid method – ME-ICP61

Code Analytes & ranges (ppm)
0.25g sample
Ag 0.5-100 Cr 1-10,000 Mo 1-10,000 Th 20-10,000
Al 0.01%-50% Cu 1-10,000 Na 0.01%-10% Ti 0.01%-10%
As 5-10,000 Fe 0.01%-50% Ni 1-10,000 Tl 10-10,000
Ba 10-10,000 Ga 10-10,000 P 10-10,000 U 10-10,000
Be 0.5-1,000 K 0.01%-10% Pb 2-10,000 V 1-10,000
Bi 2-10,000 Li 10-10,000 S 0.01%-10% W 10-10,000
Ca 0.01%-50% La 10-10,000 Sb 5-10,000 Zn 2-10,000
Cd 0.5-1,000 Mg 0.01%-50% Sc 1-10,000
Co 1-10,000 Mn 5-100,000 Sr 1-10,000

Ore grade samples

Sample analysis for resource definition and grade control requires upper detection limits that can cover the full range of grades. Method selection includes the choice of digestion which can be influenced by the metallurgical extraction process to provide an estimate of the extractable component in addition to the total copper concentration. Copper can be determined as a standalone element or within a multi-element method. Even at the resource estimation or grade control stages multi-element geochemistry can provide valuable data by providing information on deleterious elements present in the ore, or for routine geometallurgical assessment.

Ore methods

High grade copper ore analyses are available by ICP-AES or AAS after either four-acid or aqua regia digestion. These may also be set as automatic over-range assays for exploration samples with high copper content.

Ore grade aqua regia method – ME-ICP41a

Code Analytes & ranges (ppm)
0.4g sample
Ag 1-200 Cr 5-50,000 Mo 5-50,000 Th 100-50,000
Al 0.05%-50% Cu 5-50,000 Na 0.05%-50% Ti 0.05%-50%
As 10-100,000 Fe 0.05%-50% Ni 5-50,000 Tl 50-50,000
Ba 50-50,000 Ga 50-50,000 P 50-50,000 U 50-50,000
Be 5-500 Hg 5-50,000 Pb 10-50,000 V 5-50,000
Bi 10-50,000 K 0.05%-50% S 0.05%-10% W 50-50,000
Ca 0.05%-50% La 50-50,000 Sb 10-50,000 Zn 10-50,000
Cd 5-2,500 Mg 0.05%-50% Sc 5-50,000
Co 5-50,000 Mn 25-50,000 Sr 5-50,000

Ore grade four acid method – ME-ICP61a

Code Analytes & ranges (ppm)
0.4g sample
Ag 1-200 Cr 10-100,000 Na 0.05%-30% Ti 0.05%-30%
Al 0.05%-30% Cu 10-100,000 Ni 10-100,000 Tl 50-50,000
As 50-100,000 Fe 0.05%-50% P 50-100,000 U 50-50,000
Ba 50-50,000 Ga 50-50,000 Pb 20-100,000 V 10-100,000
Be 10-10,000 K 0.1%-30% S 0.05%-10% W 50-50,000
Bi 20-50,000 La 50-50,000 Sb 50-50,000 Zn 20-100,000
Ca 0.05%-50% Mg 0.05%-50% Sc 10-50,000
Cd 10-10,000 Mn 10-100,000 Sr 10-100,000
Co 10-50,000 Mo 10-50,000 Th 50-50,000

Ore grade copper only methods

Code Analytes Ranges (%) Description
Cu-OG46 Cu Assay 0.001-50 Aqua regia digestion and ICP finish.
0.4g sample
Cu-OG62 Cu Assay 0.001-50 Four acid digestion and ICP finish.
0.4g sample

Native copper

When copper is present in its native form sample preparation and analysis may need to be adapted. As native copper is malleable it is prone to smearing on preparation equipment which will decrease the amount of copper in the sample and add copper to samples prepared afterwards. An option is available to add barren washes after samples with native copper and analyse the copper concentration in the wash. This can give an indication of how much copper is being lost and carried over to following samples.

Metallic screen method Cu-SCR21

Metallic screen analysis is recommended for samples that contain native copper as the native copper may not be homogenously distributed through a prepared sample. Samples are screened, a portion of the material passing through the screen is analysed and the entire portion of the material remaining is assayed. With these results an estimate of the total copper concentration of the sample is derived, and the entire coarse fraction contribution determined.

Copper metallic screen method – Cu_SCR21

Code Analytes Ranges (%) Description
Cu_SCR21 Native Cu 0.01-100 Screen 1kg sample to 100 microns, duplicate assay on 0.25g of undersize fraction and assay of entire oversize fraction by four acid digestion and AAS finish.

Copper concentrates

Methods for copper concentrates are available with upper detection limits of 100% and a high degree of precision.

Cu-VOL61 & Cu-CON02

ALS offers HNO3-HCl-HF-H2SO4 digestion followed by measurement of Cu by titration. The method Cu-VOL61 method provides a single analysis while Cu-CON02 provides duplicate analyses.

Copper concentrate methods

Code Analytes Ranges (%) Description
Cu Concentrate 0.01-100 HNO3-HCl-HF-H2SO4 acid digestion followed by titration.
Cu-CON02 performed in duplicate. 2g sample

Mineral characterisation of copper ores

Mineral-selective leaches for copper can be useful at many different stages in a project's life. Some understanding of the recovery from common processing methods may be valuable during resource evaluation. Established mines may want to produce early metallurgical characterisation with geochemistry during resource extension or infill drilling.

Range of methods

ALS offers a citric acid leach (Cu-AA04) which targets oxide minerals and is often used in heap leach and bioleaching extraction. Sulphuric acid digestion (Cu-AA05) also targets oxide minerals and is widely used in copper hydrometallurgical processes. A cyanide leach (Cu- AA17) targets secondary sulphides and some primary sulphide minerals. Cyanide methods are useful when a project contains gold as it is effectively extracted. Other options available are listed in the table below:

Copper leach methods

Code Analytes Ranges (%) Description
Cu-AA04 Cu 0.01-10 Citric acid leach and AAS finish.
0.25g sample
Cu-AA05 Cu 0.01-10 Sulphuric acid leach and AAS finish.
1g sample
Cu-AA07n Cu 0.001-100 Sulphuric acid/Na sulfite leach and AAS finish.
1g sample
Cu-AA08q Cu 0.001-100 Sulphuric acid/ferric sulphate leach and AAS finish.
1g sample
Cu-AA17 Cu 0.001-10 Cyanide leach and AAS finish.
2g sample
Cu-PKG06LI Cu Various Sequential leach for oxide, sulphide and residual Cu. Various options available.
1g sample



ALS Copper Technical Note

12 AUG 2022


ALS Cyanide Leach: What to consider Technical Note


Quantitative Mineralogy

Frequently asked questions

Related resources

Generative Exploration

Analysis for exploration

ALS offers a wide range of analytical methods for exploration applications regardless of sample media.


Mineralogy studies

ALS has expert teams for mineralogy studies for all stages of exploration and mining.