Grant to develop better electrical cables and save energy

The Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University has secured a £20,000 Royal Society Research Grant to develop improved copper-carbon nanotube materials to deliver electricity more efficiently and to save energy.

At present one-tenth of generated electricity is lost in the grid because of the cables we use. Better cables require better materials, and mixing copper (Cu) with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) can help to solve the problem.

Large research investments are made world-wide to develop Cu-CNTs ultra- conductive wires able to transport electricity with improved energy efficiency.

400 x 267ESRI Director Prof Andrew Barron is leading research in advanced ultra-conductive wires, and Dr Ewa Kazimierska is working alongside him to achieve this goal.

Professor Andrew Barron said:

“Making a good mix from carbon nanotubes and copper is challenging.  There have been several reports that a combination of copper and carbon nanotubes has significantly higher ampacity than copper alone, which makes it very promising for future power distribution for the grid, automotive and aerospace applications.”

The successful Royal Society Research Grant, entitled “Tuneable plasma oxidation of CNTs and its effect on dispersion and metal integration”, aims to solve the CNT-Cu incompatibility problem.

Plasma is an ionised gas that can be used to modify CNTs and improve their dispersion in water. With both CNTs and dissolved copper salt in water it should be easier to combine the two in a working ultra-conductive wire.

Dr Ewa Kazimierska said:

“Thanks to this grant, I’m going to purchase a plasma system. It will enable me to modify and control the surface properties of carbon nanotubes. From experience, I know that surface modification has a significant effect on their interaction with copper. It is very exciting to have this new instrument added to the already fantastic equipment range of ESRI.”

Researchers at ESRI are currently exploring various approaches to Cu-CNT compatibilization and the plasma system is certainly going to strengthen efforts toward developing the electrical cable of the future.

Find out more about the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University

College of Engineering, Swansea University