This is fun

No idea whether it actually works but fun all the same:

Despite mind-boggling technological change in almost every part of life over the past 100 years we still transmit electricity and electrical communications over copper wires. Tirupati says it has produced a new substance, a mixture of aluminium and a type of graphite called graphene, that can be used to make wires with superior technical qualities – qualities that will bring benefits such as increasing the capacity of airliners.

Hmm. well, OK. One thing here is that to make graphene you don’t have to start with graphite, although that’s an aid. It’s just carbon and can be made in other ways. Yes, OK, that’s like saying diamond is just carbon but then that’s also true, you can make diamond without the kimberlite and the volcano.

So, aluminium plus carbon beats copper for wiring does it? Ain’t that a fun story about substituitability? And makes some of those worries about running out of metals for the green revolution go away too.

11 thoughts on “This is fun”

  1. I thought that most of the National Grid’s cabling was using aluminium conductors, with a steel core for strength? Copper would be too expensive, too heavy, and not strong enough?

    Or so I was taught in A-level physics a few decades ago, anyway.

  2. That Grid cabling, yes. Decent weight/conductivity trade off. For smaller things the trade off goes to copper. Unless this graphene/Al thing really works….

  3. Aluminum based cables aren’t new, even outside the high voltage grid: this estate, like many others, uses aluminium telephone wiring. Ugh.

    The big problem with Aluminium wiring is the joining. Still not solved, and nothing in the Al/Graphene pitch that suggests a fix. Until yopu can easily solder it, or clamp it without oxidation creating a fire, it’s crippled.

    Oh, and for high speeed data communications….the signal doesn’t flow through the metal anyway. It flows through the dielectric near the metal’s surface.

    So the new material may have some niche usage, but only where the benefit (less weight?) is worth the complexity in termination.

    And if going to those extremes…room temperature superconductors…

  4. 🙂 Touche

    But Al-welding sounds very factory based: not too easy to do if rewiring/reterminating a loom while crawled into some equipment bay on the ramp.
    On which topic, all the aircraft wiring I’ve worked with had most of the weight in the insulation and connectors, not so much in the conductors. Bit different in power bus bar maybe.

    When I stopped doing all that, there was a technology battle running between hydraulic power for moving bits, and electrical power (this being one of the few really high-power electrical circuits needed). The hydraulic lot kept responding with ever higher pressures, and titanium pipes, the electrical lot claimed less weight overall…don’t know how it ended.
    But the A320 I played with was ground powered by not a very big cable, and at 28VDC!

  5. The PoTel (latterly BT) started using aluminium when Rhodesia went tits up, and the price of copper went through the roof. A few years later the true horror of it’s brittleness became apparent, and engineers who opened a joint to effect repairs knew that there would be several more before it was re-closed. Later, aluminium alloys were introduced, which were much better. But the problems of making reliable connections remained, as did the need for larger conductor sizes to maintain the same resistance per mile. As for graphite based conductors – considering that vast numbers of resistors in electronic equipment are carbon based, this new hybrid material would need to have remarkable properties to become better than copper…

  6. I’m assuming graphene for it’s electrical properties and Al for its mechanical properties. In that case you supposedly don’t need to deal with Al – Al oxide issues, but I have no idea how they would do the graphene connection.

    Electrical grid in the UK from 33kV down is copper. Not sure if all 132kV is Al.

  7. If it works, the Hi-Fi cable people will be touting it as “offering more space and air between the instruments, and a more stable stereo image”.

    £1,000s for interconnects…

  8. An article I read seemed to say they were chucking graphene powder into the molten aluminium, so it’s more or less like an aluminium graphene alloy. It had slightly better conductivity and a fair bit better strength. More of a substitute for conventional aluminium alloy than copper, really.

  9. Dear Mr Worstall

    “… and electrical communications over copper wires.”

    Does he mean teh interwebs, phone calls and watching porn artistic films, or something else?

    If the former, what happened to copper, aluminium and graphene-free fibre optics?

    Asking for a friend.


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