Researchers in California say they have developed an alternative for copper wire in automotive applications that is cheaper and lighter than existing solutions – namely, aluminium wire rods strengthened by carbon nanotubes.
According to scientists at vehicle wire harness manufacturer Yazaki’s research and development subsidiary YTC America, enhancing aluminium wire with carbon nanotubes helps to address the two main complaints against aluminium wire in automotive applications. While aluminium wire can be up to 85 percent cheaper than copper wire, current aluminium wire offerings are only about 60 percent as conductive and 30 percent as strong as automotive copper wire. However, automakers have long sought to use lighter metals in their vehicles’ electrical systems, as current models carry up to 60 pounds of copper wire.
Yakazi says that by adding a small amount of carbon nanotubes to aluminium, the resulting wire becomes stronger and more conductive than standard aluminium wire. When produced via an extrusion process developed by YTC America, the fortified aluminium wire becomes even stronger.
“By drawing the rods down to fine wire, the strength increases further, hardening to a strength similar to copper wire,” explained YTC America director of materials research and development Stefan Maat. “In fact, it exhibits a strength surpassing that of steel.”
He continued by noting that the carbon nanotube material possesses superior heat resistance as well. Whereas ordinary aluminium wire is incapable of handling temperature much higher than normal, aluminum carbon nanotube material is able to withstand high heat resistance, allowing it to be utilized for high-current applications like electric vehicle battery cables.