Peak Copper – No More

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An LED lamp suspended from the hair thin nanotube wires that also supply it with power.

This has been reported all over the Web, but it is just too good to pass up, especially since the year in the Quantum Computing world started on a somewhat more contentious note (more about this in the next blog post).

This news item on the other hand deserves to be the first in the new year and is entirely positive:  I was expecting carbon nanotubes to eventually become the material of choice for electric wiring but I didn't expect it to happen this soon.  The video that is embedded below, makes the compelling case that a research team at Rice university not only managed to produce wires superior to any metal wire, but also at the same time, to develop a production process that can be readily scaled up.

 

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Copper price development over the last ten years.

Being able to produce these kind of wires at a competitive price will go a long way to ameliorate one of humanity's key resource problems: Peak copper (a term coined after the more publicized peak oil prognosis). And this resource constraint is anything but theoretical.  Copper prices have so increased over the last ten years that copper theft became a serious global problem, one that often endangers lives when critical infrastructure is destroyed.

These new copper nanotube wires have the potential to substitute copper wiring in cars, airplanes, microchip as well as residential wiring to just name a few.  If the wires are as good as they are made to look in the video, they will be superior to copper wires to such an extend, that it will be simply a matter of price for them to be adopted.

This is the kind of science news I like to hear at the beginning of a new year.

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6 Responses to Peak Copper – No More

  1. That really is cool. I have invested in a number of listed materials science plays. It really is an interesting space and I can assure you the Wall Street does not get it (yet).

    The only thing is… I am not sure I would sit under that lamp! I trust that these guys have it sorted, but it would still leave me feeling just a little queasy.

    • Henning Dekant says:

      You never know what can happen when an inanimate object hits a smart guy on the head … it’s about the same weight as an apple :-)

  2. Griffin says:

    This is an exciting development. My only worry is the interface between the carbon nanotube wire and copper. You can’t solder. You could tie or crimp but then what do you do when you need to bring a wire into a surface mount board?
    If the technique can be scaled like they say, this wire will be so useful I’m sure we’ll find ways around my problem.

  3. RonB says:

    Is there copper in the nano tube or is it just that since it can conduct electricity that it can replace copper? They don’t talk about the current carrying capability of the nano fiber. I think that would be the limiting factor to its usefulness.

    • Henning Dekant says:

      It’s the carbon nanotubes that conduct the electricity. There is no metal in the fiber, it’s all carbon. The conductivity is reported as being comparable to copper or even silver.

      The carbon nanotubes have been known to be good conductors for a long time, but you could never get them aligned in a way that the current could jump effectively form one to the other. Getting them into the specific micro-structure, so that they all face the same way is what did the trick.