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Practical Applications of Electrical Conductors

Practical Applications of Electrical Conductors

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Published by Hans De Keulenaer
With a conductivity that is about 60% of that of copper, aluminium just fails to make it onto the podium of the best three metallic conductors. Silver takes gold, so to speak, with the silver medal going to copper, and gold coming in third to take bronze. Aluminium follows a little behind gold to take fourth place, but well ahead of the rest of the field of metal conductors. Non-metallic conductors (carbon, electrolyte solutions, conducting polymers, superconductors and nanotubes) have their role to play – often in new applications - and rarely compete with metals.
With a conductivity that is about 60% of that of copper, aluminium just fails to make it onto the podium of the best three metallic conductors. Silver takes gold, so to speak, with the silver medal going to copper, and gold coming in third to take bronze. Aluminium follows a little behind gold to take fourth place, but well ahead of the rest of the field of metal conductors. Non-metallic conductors (carbon, electrolyte solutions, conducting polymers, superconductors and nanotubes) have their role to play – often in new applications - and rarely compete with metals.

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Published by: Hans De Keulenaer on Feb 02, 2010
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07/21/2013

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Stefan Fassbinder 
Deutsches Kuper-Institut  January 2010
l    e c  t  i    c  al    c  on d  u c  t   o s 
Electrical conductors
Practical applicationsof electrical conductors
With a conductivity that is about 60% o that o copper, aluminium justails to make it onto the podium o the best three metallic conductors.Silver takes gold, so to speak, with the silver medal going to copper, andgold coming in third to take bronze. Aluminium ollows a little behindgold to take ourth place, but well ahead o the rest o the feld o metalconductors. Non-metallic conductors (carbon, electrolyte solutions,conducting polymers, superconductors and nanotubes) have their role toplay – oten in new applications - and rarely compete with metals.
 
Practical applications o electrical conductors
Practical applications of electrical conductors
1
 
Metals: familiar and versatile materials
1.1
 
Metallic conductors: the choice is limited
With a conductivity that is about 60% o that o copper, aluminium just ails to make it onto the podium o the bestthree metallic conductors. Silver takes gold, so to speak, with the silver medal going to copper, and gold comingin third to take bronze. Aluminium ollows a little behind gold to take ourth place, but well ahead o the rest o the feld(see Table 1). The high prices o gold and silver makes their use in cables, wires, conductors and electrical machinesuneconomical, though they do fnd application as bond wires in integrated circuits where they are used in minutequantities. All other known elements and compounds trail the top our metals in terms o electrical conductivityby some way, with many materials not electrically conducting at all. Alloys, which are mixtures o dierent metals,have much lower electrical conductivity than pure metals. The only two metals thereore oering high electricalconductivity at economically viable prices are aluminium and copper, with the latter setting the benchmark orall other materials. According to documents published by the German Copper Institute (DKI), the conductivityo copper used or the conduction o electricity (Cu-ETP-1, Cu-OF-1 or Cu-OFE) is 58.58 MS/m
1
. The IEC standard6008 was already quoting a value o 58.51 MS/m in 195. This corresponds to 101 % o the value in the InternationalAnnealed Copper Standard (IACS), which in 1913 set the standard electrical conductivity o engineering copper to be58.00 MS/m
, 3
– the benchmark against which other electrically conducting materials must be measured.Ω*m(at 0°C)Ω*mromtoSilverCopper (99.95%)GoldAluminiumCuCrZr alloyTungstenBrass (CuZn37)IronStainless steelLeadResistance wire (CuNi44Mn1)Coal, graphite0.0160 * 10
-6
0.017 * 10
-6
0.00 * 10
-6
0.083 * 10
-6
0.0375 * 10
-6
0.0550 * 10
-6
0.0645 * 10
-6
0.1000 * 10
-6
1.0000 * 10
-6
0.080 * 10
-6
0.4900 * 10
-6
40.0000 * 10
-6
Sea waterTap waterDistilled / demineralized waterIceGarten soil, top soil, peatland soilsPorous limestoneWet concreteDry concreteSandGravel, crushed stoneQuartzite, weathered limestoneRock 0,1500010000530300000000030010001100 100000 10000050100100100005003000100010000
Table 1: Resistivity values o selected metallic materials compared to the resistivities o various types o water,soils and rocks, which are oten are treated as ‘conducting’ when discussing earthing systems
Aluminium is a light metal with a density o only about 30% that o copper. Furthermore, the day-to-day tradingprice o aluminium, which is always quoted per unit weight (strictly, per unit mass), is usually slightly, and sometimessignifcantly, lower than that o copper. However, the crucial quantity determining the amount o conducting materialrequired in a particular application is the conductor cross-section. What counts is thereore the volume and notthe mass (or weight) o material. Although the better conductivity o copper means that two litres o copper canreplace more than three litres o aluminium, copper as conductor material requires twice the mass o aluminium.So why is it then that in Western Europe, or instance, aluminium is hardly ever used in the manuacture o electricalmachines? Or why are electrical machines using copper lighter and more compact that aluminium designs (or thesame e ciency)?
 
3
Practical applications o electrical conductors
1.
Electrical machines
Consider an electric motor in which aluminium rather than copper is used or the motor windings. I this motoris to be technically equivalent to one wound with copper (particularly with respect to e ciency), the current densitieshave to be reduced by 40%, that is the cross-sectional area o the conductor will have to be increased by 64%, thusincreasing the size o the laminated core and all other mechanical components. However, the electrical sheet steelused or the laminated core also has its price on the markets, which essentially cancels out the savings made by usingaluminium rather than copper in the windings. As a result, work has been underway or a number o years aimedat casting the rotor cage rom copper.
4
A number o these new rotors are now commercially available and have alreadybeen used in the frst practical applications (Figure 1). The problem o casting the rotor cages rom copper was themuch higher melting point o copper (1083 °C) compared to a much more convenient 660 °C or aluminium. This ledto a signifcantly higher rate o wear o the casting mould. Fortunately, these problems have now been solved andmoulds with economically easible lietimes are now available.
5
1.3
Cables and wiring
Space is really a critical criterion when discussing electrical cables and wires. In a low-voltage (LV) plastic-sheathedcable with conductor cross-sections o up to 10 mm2 per conductor (Figure 5) or in high-voltage (HV) cables (Figure), the lion’s share o the cross-sectional area is occupied by the insulating material. I aluminium rather than copper isused as the conductor material, the additional cross-sectional area required is more or less negligible in comparison.
Figure 1: Squirrel-cage rotors cast rom copper wereexhibited to the public or the frst time at the Hanover Trade Fair in 2003Figure 2: In high-voltage cables the insulating material makes up a greater raction o the total cross-sectional area than the conductor material 
Comparison of Dimensions
Mineral-insulated cable2 * 1.5mm
2
with copper sheath as protective earth
Cable comprises copper sheath and mineral insulant, optional outer sheath of LSF plastic
Cable diametre7.2 mm
Typical fire resistant cable3 * 1.5mm
2
with protective earth
Cable comprises sheath and core insulation of organic insulant with glass fibre or mica filler andflame protection foil
Cable diametre13.2 mm
Figure 3: Mineral-insulated cablesFigure 4: The structure ofreproo’ plastic-coated cableand mineral-insulated cable

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