Electrical Conductors

30-second summary

Electrical Conductors

Electric conductors are materials that allow electric current to flow through them with minimal resistance. In other words, they have high electrical conductivity.

The main characteristics of electric conductors are:

  1. High electrical conductivity
  2. Low resistivity
  3. High melting point
  4. Ductility
  5. Malleability
  6. High density
  7. High thermal conductivity

Electrical Conductors

Electrical conductors are materials that allow electric current to flow through them with minimal resistance. In other words, they have high electrical conductivity. Conductors are usually metals, such as copper, silver, gold, and aluminum, but they can also include some non-metals, such as graphite. The electrons in conductive materials are able to move freely, allowing electric current to pass through the material with ease. This property makes conductors useful in many electrical applications, such as wiring, circuits, and electronic devices.

Application of Electrical Conductors

Electrical conductors play a critical role in a wide range of applications, including:

  1. Electrical wiring: Electrical conductors such as copper wires are used for electrical wiring in buildings, homes, and industrial facilities.
  2. Electronics: Electrical conductors are used in a wide range of electronic devices, including televisions, computers, smartphones, and more.
  3. Power transmission: Electrical conductors are used in power transmission lines to transmit electricity over long distances from power plants to homes and businesses.
  4. Automotive industry: Electrical conductors are used in various automotive applications, including wiring harnesses, spark plugs, and battery cables.
  5. Lighting: Electrical conductors are used in lighting applications, including incandescent, fluorescent, and LED lighting.
  6. Medical equipment: Electrical conductors are used in a wide range of medical equipment, including ECG machines, X-ray machines, and MRI machines.
  7. Aerospace industry: Electrical conductors are used in the aerospace industry for a variety of applications, including wiring, sensors, and communication systems.
  8. Renewable energy: Electrical conductors are used in renewable energy systems, including wind turbines and solar panels, to transmit power from the energy source to the electrical grid.

Characteristics of Electric Conductors

The main characteristics of electric conductors are:

  1. High electrical conductivity: Conductors have a high ability to conduct electric current through them with minimal resistance.
  2. Low resistivity: Conductors have low resistivity, which is a measure of how much a material resists the flow of electric current.
  3. High melting point: Conductors have high melting points, which means they can withstand high temperatures without melting or degrading.
  4. Ductility: Conductors are often ductile, which means they can be easily drawn into wires or other shapes without breaking.
  5. Malleability: Conductors are often malleable, which means they can be easily shaped or molded without breaking.
  6. High density: Conductors are often dense materials, which means they have a high mass per unit volume.
  7. High thermal conductivity: Many conductors also have high thermal conductivity, which means they can transfer heat efficiently.

Here is a table of 10 most common conductors with their main parameters:

ConductorElectrical Conductivity (S/m)Thermal Conductivity (W/m*K)Melting Point (°C)Density (g/cm³)
Silver (Ag)62.6 × 10^6429961.810.49
Copper (Cu)58.0 × 10^64011,0858.96
Gold (Au)45.5 × 10^63201,06419.30
Aluminum (Al)37.7 × 10^6237660.32.70
Tungsten (W)18.8 × 10^61733,42219.25
Nickel (Ni)14.4 × 10^691.71,4558.91
Iron (Fe)10.0 × 10^680.41,5387.87
Zinc (Zn)16.6 × 10^6116419.57.13
Brass (CuZn)15.6 × 10^6109900-9408.4-8.7
Bronze (CuSn)7.8 × 10^661.2870-1,0407.5-8.8

Materials with the highest electrical conductivity

Here are seven materials with the highest electrical conductivity:

  1. Silver – Silver has the highest electrical conductivity of all metals and is widely used in electrical and electronic applications due to its low resistance and high thermal conductivity.
  2. Copper – Copper is the second-most conductive metal after silver and is commonly used in electrical wiring and electronic components.
  3. Gold – Gold is a good conductor of electricity and is commonly used in electronic connectors, switches, and other components due to its corrosion resistance and low reactivity.
  4. Aluminum – Aluminum is a lightweight metal with good electrical conductivity and is used in a variety of electrical applications, such as power transmission and distribution.
  5. Tungsten – Tungsten has a high melting point and is a good conductor of electricity, making it useful in high-temperature electrical applications such as incandescent light bulbs and vacuum tubes.
  6. Platinum – Platinum is a dense, corrosion-resistant metal with high electrical conductivity and is used in a variety of electrical and electronic applications.
  7. Brass – Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc that has good electrical conductivity and is commonly used in electrical connectors, switches, and other components.

What are electrical wires made of?

Electrolytic tough pitch copper, UNS C11000, is pure copper (with a maximum of 0.0355% impurities) refined by the electrolytic refining process. It is the most widely used grade of copper all over the world. ETP has a minimum conductivity rating of 100% IACS and is required to be 99.9% pure. It has 0.02% to 0.04% oxygen content (typical). Electrical wiring is the most important market for the copper industry. This includes structural power wiring, power distribution cable, appliance wire, communications cable, automotive wire and cable, and magnet wire. Roughly half of all copper mined is used for electrical wire and cable conductors. Pure copper has the best electrical and thermal conductivity of any commercial metal. The conductivity of copper is 97% that of silver. Due to its much lower cost and greater abundance, copper has traditionally been the standard material for electricity transmission applications.

According to the Copper Development Association:

“The term ‘tough pitch’ originates from the time when molten copper, after refining, was cast into ingot moulds. During refining, the copper was oxidized to remove impurities and then reduced by hydrogen to give the correct oxygen level. To monitor this process, a small sample was taken, and the solidification surface was observed. If the surface sunk, there was too much oxygen; if it was raised, there was too much hydrogen. If it was level (correct pitch), the oxygen was correct, and the properties good; in other words, ’ tough,’ hence tough pitch. “

Source: https://copperalliance.org

Why are overhead power lines made of aluminum?

Overhead power lines are often made of aluminum instead of copper or other materials for several reasons:

  1. Lightweight: Aluminum is a lighter metal than copper, which makes it easier and more cost-effective to transport and install.
  2. Cost-effective: Aluminum is less expensive than copper, making it a more cost-effective material for large-scale applications like power transmission.
  3. Corrosion-resistant: Aluminum is naturally resistant to corrosion, which means it can withstand exposure to the elements and last longer than other metals.
  4. High conductivity: Although aluminum has lower conductivity than copper, it still has a relatively high conductivity compared to other metals. This means that it can still efficiently conduct electricity, making it suitable for use in power lines.

Overall, aluminum’s combination of lightweight, cost-effectiveness, corrosion-resistance, and conductivity makes it an ideal material for overhead power lines.

There are several different aluminum alloys that can be used for overhead power lines, but the most common alloy used is 1350-H19. This alloy has a high purity level and is specifically designed for electrical applications, with a minimum conductivity of 61.8% IACS (International Annealed Copper Standard).

The “1350” in the alloy designation indicates that the aluminum has a minimum purity level of 99.5%, while the “H19” designation refers to the temper or hardness of the material. H19 is a relatively hard temper that provides a good balance of strength and ductility, making it suitable for use in overhead power lines.

Other aluminum alloys that can be used for overhead power lines include 6201-T81 and 6101-T81, which have higher strength and conductivity levels than 1350-H19 but are also more expensive. The specific alloy used will depend on the specific requirements of the power transmission system and the cost considerations of the project.

Electrical Conductivity and Materials

Electrical conductivity can be defined as how much voltage is required to get an amount of electric current to flow. This is largely determined by the number of electrons in the outermost shell; these electrons determine the ease with which mobile electrons are generated. Another factor is the number of atoms per unit volume, which determines the number of electrons that will readily move in response to an electric field. Materials that have high electrical conductivity are typically metals and alloys, as well as some types of salts and solutions. This is because these materials have a large number of free electrons that are not bound to individual atoms and are able to move freely through the material.

Metals such as copper, aluminum, silver, and gold are well-known for their high electrical conductivity and are commonly used in electrical and electronic applications. Other metals and alloys with high electrical conductivity include tungsten, platinum, and brass.

Some types of salts and solutions also have high electrical conductivity due to the presence of free ions that can carry an electric charge. For example, solutions of sodium chloride (table salt) or other salts can conduct electricity well, as can some types of acids and bases.

Classification of Materials according to Electrical Conductivity

Materials can be classified into different categories based on their electrical conductivity. Here are some common categories:

  1. Conductors: Materials with high electrical conductivity, such as metals and some types of solutions, are known as conductors. They are able to carry an electric current with minimal resistance and are commonly used in electrical and electronic applications.
  2. Insulators: Materials with low electrical conductivity, such as plastics, rubber, and glass, are known as insulators. They are not able to carry an electric current easily and are commonly used to isolate and protect electrical components.
  3. Semiconductors: Materials that have intermediate levels of electrical conductivity, such as silicon and germanium, are known as semiconductors. They can be used to control and manipulate the flow of electric charge and are used extensively in electronics and computer applications.
  4. Superconductors: Materials that have zero electrical resistance at very low temperatures are known as superconductors. They are able to carry electric current without any loss of energy and are used in specialized applications such as MRI machines and particle accelerators.
  5. Ionic conductors: Materials that conduct electricity through the movement of ions rather than electrons, such as some types of salts and electrolytes, are known as ionic conductors. They are commonly used in batteries, fuel cells, and other electrochemical devices.

Generally, most metals have high conductivity (which is another way of saying metals tend to be conductors) because the electrons in their outermost shell can move easily. Non-metals tend to have low conductivity.

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