Could copper soon be replaced by aluminum?

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are working to increase the electrical conductivity of aluminum. This makes it able to compete with copper economically.

Kappangantula And postdoctoral scholar Aditya Nittala have collaborated with Ohio University’s David Drabold and Kashi Subedi to identify the effects of temperature and structural defects on aluminum conductivity and develop atoms by atomic formulas to increase conductivity.

For many years, metals were no longer conductive, but structural changes and the introduction of suitable additives made it possible to influence the metal’s properties. From the scientists’ point of view, this work opened the door for various experiments. This could lead to an alternative to ultra-conductive aluminum instead of copper. This will be useful not only for transmission lines but also for the revolution in automotive electronics and the power grid.

“What if you could make aluminum more conductive—even 80% or 90% as conductive as copper? You could replace copper and that would make a massive difference because more conductive aluminum is lighter, cheaper, and more abundant,” Keerti Kappagantula, PNNL materials scientist and co-author of the research, said in the media statement. “That’s the big picture problem that we’re trying to solve.”

Kappagantula pointed out that this research came as he and his team realized that demand for copper was rapidly outpacing current availability. Especially when the EV revolution begins.

Aluminum is about a third of the price and weight of copper. But with only 60% conductivity, they decided to do something to increase the conductivity of that metal.

“Conductivity is key because a lighter weight wire with equivalent conduction can be used to design lighter motors and other electrical components, so your vehicle can potentially go longer distances,” Kappagantula said. “Everything from a car’s electronics to energy generation to transmitting that energy to your home via the grid to charge your car’s battery—anything that runs on electricity—it can all become more efficient.”  

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