Home >Early days for ultraconductive copper, but potential huge
Early days for ultraconductive copper, but potential huge
20 January 2014
A consortium of 14 companies and universities has signed a EUR3.3 million funding contract through the European Commission's FP7 programme. The project, termed 'Ultrawire', aims to bring ultraconductive copper "that will conduct electricity better than any known material" to a level where pilot manufacturing can be planned within three years. Consortium members are adding an additional EUR1.7 million of their own funding to the project.
Ultraconductive copper is a composite of less than 1% nano-carbon suspended in more than 99% copper. It has an electrical conductivity, at room temperature, up to double that of pure copper. Its development began in the last few years, primarily at US universities. Today, it is only available on a laboratory scale. However, if its production process can be scaled up, it could have the same world-changing potential that occurred in the 1800s when carbon was first added to iron, creating steel.
Eventually, motors, transformers, wind-generators and distribution wiring could be half the weight and size they are today.
"This is an opportunity for Europe to capture early market share and new manufacturing jobs from the promising new technology of ultraconductive copper," says Jan Janssen, technical manager of the project and senior production manager of Aurubis, the largest copper producer in Europe.
Dr Krzysztof Koziol, head of the Electric Carbon Nanomaterials Research Group in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge is the project coordinator for the Ultrawire Project. "We are exploiting forefront European carbon manufacturing technology and transferring exciting new materials into industry," he says.
"The EU has extremely ambitious CO2 emission reduction targets for 2050 and the necessary transition towards electricity as the primary source of energy will require significant quantities of highly-efficient conductor materials. While this technology is in the very early stages of development, with many significant hurdles to cross, ultraconductive copper would bring about a step change in the end-use performance obtainable from one tonne of copper," says John Schonenberger, chief executive of the European Copper Institute.