Putting a Small Quantity of Solid Carbon on Copper Could Increase its Conductivity

A carbon compound is yielding notable performance improvements when combined in specific proportions with copper to produce electrical wires. This phenomenon challenges conventional notions about the conductivity of metals. As documented in the  journal Materials & Design, these discoveries have the potential to enhance electricity distribution efficiency for residential and commercial use, as well as optimize motors for electric vehicles and industrial machinery.

The Finding

The researchers, led by materials scientist Keerti Kappagantula at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, have sought a patent for their work, supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office.

Kappagantula and her team observed that graphene, consisting of single layers of graphite similar to that found in pencils, can enhance a crucial property of metals known as the temperature coefficient of resistance. This property explains why metal wires heat up when an electric current flows through them. The goal of researchers has been to reduce this resistance while improving a metal’s ability to conduct electricity.

The team, employing an advanced manufacturing platform called ShAPE, demonstrated their ability to achieve this by adding 18 parts per million of graphene to electrical-grade copper.

This resulted in an 11 percent decrease in the temperature coefficient of resistance without compromising electrical conductivity at room temperature. Such improvements are particularly relevant for electric vehicle motors, where an 11 percent increase in copper wire electrical conductivity translates to a 1 percent gain in motor efficiency.

Contrary to conventional knowledge about metal conductors, the researchers discovered a novel property in this metal composite, demonstrating enhanced conductivity in manufactured copper wire. The microstructure, crucial to graphene enhancement, was shown to be uniform and nearly pore-free, punctuated with tiny flakes and clusters of graphene, contributing to the decreased coefficient of resistance of the composite.

The research team utilized a precision testbed to validate the improved conductivity, emphasizing the importance of both flakes and clusters in creating better conductors for high-temperature operations.

Also read : Diminishing Copper Production from Panama and Peru May Eliminate Prejected Global Surplus in 2024

More Efficient Motors and Better Urban Wiring 

The applications of this copper-graphene composite extend to various industrial settings, offering design flexibility. For instance, it could enable electric motors to operate at higher temperatures without compromising conductivity, also benefiting urban buildings where the demand for power is increasing with rising population density.

The team is continuing their work to customize the copper-graphene material and assess additional properties such as strength, fatigue, corrosion, and wear resistance, essential for industrial applications. The experimental wires are manufactured to be about the thickness of a US penny (1.5 millimeters).

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