Tiny Cylinders Could Replace Copper Wires in US Homes
Rice University researcher Yao Zhao shows a demonstration rig in which he uses a short piece of carbon nanotube cable to provide standard line voltage to a fluorescent light bulb.
CREDIT: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University
Copper thieves may end up in mourning if new airplanes, automobiles and even American homes end up getting rid of their metal electrical wiring. The possible replacement comes from tiny cylinders, called carbon nanotubes, which allow for the creation of conductive cables that are six times lighter than metal wires.
Such nanotube cables can conduct more electricity per unit of weight compared with the copper and silver commonly used in electronic devices. They can also be tied together without losing the ability to conduct electricity and can resist a wide range of temperatures. Additionally, they have proven to be just as tough and strong as their metal predecessors.
"We really want to go better than what copper or other metals can offer overall," said Enrique Barrera, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Rice University.
The lead author of the new research, Yao Zhao, put the nanotube cable to the test by setting it up to conduct electricity to a fluorescent light bulb. The nanotube cable held up even when Zhao kept the light bulb burning for days.
This first step only involved a few centimeters of cable, but required the Rice University team to spin together billions of nanotubes into the cable. The nanotubes came from researchers at China's Tsinghua University.
Researchers hope to soon make longer, thicker cables that can carry even higher current while still being lightweight. The existing cables consist of double-walled carbon nanotubes with some added iodine for extra conductivity.
The study is detailed in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.