Editorial Feature

Electrical Wiring with Carbon Nanotubes

For the first time we are seeing the formation of high-performance electrical wiring made from carbon nanotubes. Electrical wiring components are typically made up of copper for its high level of conductivity.

Global research communities and industries are generating more capital than ever before into the development and diverse application of carbon nanotubes. However, difficulties in being able to control exactly how this material behaves from a structural and functional perspective has limited its application in the real world.

With the remarkable properties of the sp2 carbon-carbon bonds, these concentric shells of carbon makes this single-walled carbon layer light in weight, extremely flexible, with exceptional thermally stability, and impressive electrical conductance.

The application of carbon nanotubes for electrical wiring and, most importantly, the manufacturing of this material into wiring on a large commercial scale will most definitely revolutionise the development of everything from household electrical devices to the transformation of the way space aircrafts and automotive products are constructed.

Researchers at Cambridge University demonstrate the fascinating development of carbon nanotubes into long and exceptionally strong wires, which when compared to copper wiring are lighter in weight (1/10 of copper). There is also the benefit of using carbon nanotubes to reduce the energy lost during electrical transmission which can typically be seen with the application of copper wiring.

Carbon Nanotubes

Formation of carbon nanotubes. Cambridge University.

The automotive industry will take this new development as a keen step to help design vehicles that can become more fuel efficient and creating an energy network system.  

These carbon nanotube wires have been described as “cotton candy” and it appears that researchers at the University of Cambridge have been able to achieve a sophisticated level of control in production of this cylindrical carbon structure.

But exactly how have they managed to accomplish this milestone?

This research team aimed to control the diameter of the carbon nanotube structure and this allowed for greater control of the chirality to the carbon-carbon layer.

Compared to copper wires that are susceptible to corrosion due to oxidation resulting in issues with system failure in electronic products, nanotubes become a key player in meeting the current demands in this market sector.

A chemical vapour deposition process, developed by Professor Alan Windle from Cambridge University was used to help develop the long carbon nanotube wiring into long threads. A selective synthesis process has allowed for strict control over the production of carbon nanotube structures with a high degree of purity.

The production process is completed by the use of sulphur which behaves as a ‘promoter’ to segregate between the catalyst particles and the carbon nanotubes creating a cloud of entangled carbon nanotubes giving these tubes enough consistency to be pulled out as a long thread, with lengths reaching 100,000 times that of their diameter. By twisting this long carbon nanotube thread, a wire can be formed at a width of 1 millimeter.

If carbon nanotube wiring achieves or exceeds the level of conductivity compared to that of copper, then there will most certainly be a rise in commercial development of this product.

This research really does pave the way for a shift in greater manufacturing for carbon nanotube-based material to help meet the growing need for the use of electricity.

Sources and Further Reading

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  1. Michael Gurau Michael Gurau United States says:

    NH-based Nanocomp Technologies (www.nanocomptech.com) has shipped more than 1.5M meters of conductive all CNT yarns.  The Company has produced fully functioning, space qualified data cables using its core CNT conductors and its CNT tapes (as EMI shielding).

    • Rolf Easto Rolf Easto AZoNetwork Team Member says:

      Michael, you're certainly in the right space as a business, fascinating technology and I notice that Nanocomp are active in numerous sectors and applications....great to see!

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