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Copper's Current Carrying Capacity Compared to Nanotubes

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 02:15PM

Though we may not see them, we all rely on copper or aluminum wires to provide power to our homes. While these cables work well, people have searched for better solutions. Researchers at Rice University have recently found that fibers made of carbon nanotubes could be a viable replacement.

Carbon nanotubes are known for their conductivity, so this discovery may not be too surprising, but it is when considering how many kinds of nanotubes there are. The best for conducting electricity are shaped like armchairs, but this variety is difficult to produce in bulk. Instead the researchers worked with nanotube fibers that are less conductive. To measure the nanotubes current carrying capacity, the researchers built a custom rig that charges a cable in a controlled environment until the heats causes it to break. What they found is that their nanotube fibers performed the best of any reported carbon-based fibers, but they still had worse resistivity than copper by an order of magnitude. However, because the nanotubes are so light, a cable of nanotubes, equal in mass to a copper cable, could carry four times as much current.

One of the researchers has suggested that because of how light the nanotube fibers are, one could potentially use them to power an aerial device from the ground. The fibers would be like a kite string, connecting the airborne device to a terrestrial power source.

Source: Rice University

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