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In physics and electrical engineering, a conductor is an object or type of material that allows the flow of an electrical current in one or more directions. Materials made of metal are common electrical conductors. Electrical current is generated by the flow of negatively charged electrons, positively charged holes, and positive or negative ions in some cases.
Physics is the natural science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.
Electrical engineering is a professional engineering discipline that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This field first became an identifiable occupation in the later half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electric power distribution and use. Subsequently, broadcasting and recording media made electronics part of daily life. The invention of the transistor, and later the integrated circuit, brought down the cost of electronics to the point they can be used in almost any household object.
In order for current to flow, it is not necessary for one charged particle to travel from the machine producing the current to that consuming it. Instead, the charged particle simply needs to nudge its neighbor a finite amount who will nudge its neighbor and on and on until a particle is nudged into the consumer, thus powering the machine. Essentially what is occurring is a long chain of momentum transfer between mobile charge carriers; the Drude model of conduction describes this process more rigorously. This momentum transfer model makes metal an ideal choice for a conductor as metals, characteristically, possess a delocalized sea of electrons which gives the electrons enough mobility to collide and thus effect a momentum transfer.
The Drude model of electrical conduction was proposed in 1900 by Paul Drude to explain the transport properties of electrons in materials. The model, which is an application of kinetic theory, assumes that the microscopic behavior of electrons in a solid may be treated classically and looks much like a pinball machine, with a sea of constantly jittering electrons bouncing and re-bouncing off heavier, relatively immobile positive ions.
As discussed above, electrons are the primary mover in metals; however, other devices such as the cationic electrolyte(s) of a battery, or the mobile protons of the proton conductor of a fuel cell rely on positive charge carriers. Insulators are non-conducting materials with few mobile charges that support only insignificant electric currents.
An electrolyte is a substance that produces an electrically conducting solution when dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water. The dissolved electrolyte separates into cations and anions, which disperse uniformly through the solvent. Electrically, such a solution is neutral. If an electric potential is applied to such a solution, the cations of the solution are drawn to the electrode that has an abundance of electrons, while the anions are drawn to the electrode that has a deficit of electrons. The movement of anions and cations in opposite directions within the solution amounts to a current. This includes most soluble salts, acids, and bases. Some gases, such as hydrogen chloride, under conditions of high temperature or low pressure can also function as electrolytes. Electrolyte solutions can also result from the dissolution of some biological and synthetic polymers, termed "polyelectrolytes", which contain charged functional groups. A substance that dissociates into ions in solution acquires the capacity to conduct electricity. Sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate are examples of electrolytes.
A proton conductor is an electrolyte, typically a solid electrolyte, in which H+ are the primary charge carriers.
An electrical insulator is a material whose internal electric charges do not flow freely; very little electric current will flow through it under the influence of an electric field. This contrasts with other materials, semiconductors and conductors, which conduct electric current more easily. The property that distinguishes an insulator is its resistivity; insulators have higher resistivity than semiconductors or conductors.
The resistance of a given conductor depends on the material it is made of, and on its dimensions. For a given material, the resistance is inversely proportional to the cross-sectional area. R and conductance G of a conductor of uniform cross section, therefore, can be computed asFor example, a thick copper wire has lower resistance than an otherwise-identical thin copper wire. Also, for a given material, the resistance is proportional to the length; for example, a long copper wire has higher resistance than an otherwise-identical short copper wire. The resistance
where is the length of the conductor, measured in metres [m], A is the cross-section area of the conductor measured in square metres [m²], σ (sigma) is the electrical conductivity measured in siemens per meter (S·m−1), and ρ (rho) is the electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance) of the material, measured in ohm-metres (Ω·m). The resistivity and conductivity are proportionality constants, and therefore depend only on the material the wire is made of, not the geometry of the wire. Resistivity and conductivity are reciprocals: . Resistivity is a measure of the material's ability to oppose electric current.
The metre or meter is the base unit of length in the International System of Units (SI). The SI unit symbol is m. The metre is defined as the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum in 1/299 792 458 second.
The square metre or square meter is the SI derived unit of area with symbol m2.
The siemens is the derived unit of electric conductance, electric susceptance, and electric admittance in the International System of Units (SI). Conductance, susceptance, and admittance are the reciprocals of resistance, reactance, and impedance respectively; hence one siemens is redundantly equal to the reciprocal of one ohm, and is also referred to as the mho. The 14th General Conference on Weights and Measures approved the addition of the siemens as a derived unit in 1971.
This formula is not exact: It assumes the current density is totally uniform in the conductor, which is not always true in practical situations. However, this formula still provides a good approximation for long thin conductors such as wires.
In electromagnetism, current density is the electric current per unit area of cross section. The current density vector is defined as a vector whose magnitude is the electric current per cross-sectional area at a given point in space, its direction being that of the motion of the charges at this point. In SI units, the electric current density is measured in amperes per square metre.
Another situation this formula is not exact for is with alternating current (AC), because the skin effect inhibits current flow near the center of the conductor. Then, the geometrical cross-section is different from the effective cross-section in which current actually flows, so the resistance is higher than expected. Similarly, if two conductors are near each other carrying AC current, their resistances increase due to the proximity effect. At commercial power frequency, these effects are significant for large conductors carrying large currents, such as busbars in an electrical substation,or large power cables carrying more than a few hundred amperes.
Aside from the geometry of the wire, temperature also has a significant effect on the efficacy of conductors. Temperature affects conductors in two main ways, the first is that materials may expand under the application of heat. The amount that the material will expand is governed by the thermal expansion coefficient specific to the material. Such an expansion (or contraction) will change the geometry of the conductor and therefore its characteristic resistance. However, this effect is generally small, on the order of 10−6. An increase in temperature will also increase the number of phonons generated within the material. A phonon is essentially a lattice vibration, or rather a small, harmonic kinetic movement of the atoms of the material. Much like the shaking of a pinball machine, phonons serve to disrupt the path of electrons, causing them to scatter. This electron scattering will decrease the number of electron collisions and therefore will decrease the total amount of current transferred.
|Material||ρ [Ω·m] at 20°C||σ [S/] at 20°C|
|Silver, Ag||1.59 × 10−8||6.30 × 107|
|Copper, Cu||1.68 × 10−8||5.96 × 107|
|Aluminum, Al||2.82 × 10−8||3.50 × 107|
Conduction materials include metals, electrolytes, superconductors, semiconductors, plasmas and some nonmetallic conductors such as graphite and Conductive polymers.
Copper has a high conductivity. Annealed copper is the international standard to which all other electrical conductors are compared; the International Annealed Copper Standard conductivity is MS/m, although ultra-pure copper can slightly exceed 101% IACS. The main grade of copper used for electrical applications, such as building wire, motor windings, cables and busbars, is electrolytic-tough pitch (ETP) copper (CW004A or ASTM designation C100140). If high conductivity copper must be welded or brazed or used in a reducing atmosphere, then oxygen-free high conductivity copper (CW008A or ASTM designation C10100) may be used. 58 Because of its ease of connection by soldering or clamping, copper is still the most common choice for most light-gauge wires.
Silver is 6% more conductive than copper, but due to cost it is not practical in most cases. However, it is used in specialized equipment, such as satellites, and as a thin plating to mitigate skin effect losses at high frequencies. Famously, 14,700 short tons (13,300 t) of silver on loan from the Treasury were used in the making of the calutron magnets during World War II due to wartime shortages of copper.
Aluminum wire is the most common metal in electric power transmission and distribution. Although only 61% of the conductivity of copper by cross-sectional area, its lower density makes it twice as conductive by mass. As aluminum is roughly one-third the cost of copper by weight, the economic advantages are considerable when large conductors are required.
The disadvantages of aluminum wiring lie in its mechanical and chemical properties. It readily forms an insulating oxide, making connections heat up. Its larger coefficient of thermal expansion than the brass materials used for connectors causes connections to loosen. Aluminum can also "creep", slowly deforming under load, which also loosens connections. These effects can be mitigated with suitably designed connectors and extra care in installation, but they have made aluminum building wiring unpopular past the service drop.
Organic compounds such as octane, which has 8 carbon atoms and 18 hydrogen atoms, cannot conduct electricity. Oils are hydrocarbons, since carbon has the property of tetracovalency and forms covalent bonds with other elements such as hydrogen, since it does not lose or gain electrons, thus does not form ions. Covalent bonds are simply the sharing of electrons. Hence, there is no separation of ions when electricity is passed through it. So the liquid (oil or any organic compound) cannot conduct electricity.
While pure water is not an electrical conductor, even a small portion of ionic impurities, such as salt, can rapidly transform it into a conductor.
Wires are measured by their cross sectional area. In many countries, the size is expressed in square millimetres. In North America, conductors are measured by American wire gauge for smaller ones, and circular mils for larger ones. The size of a wire contributes to its ampacity. The American wire gauge article contains a table showing allowable ampacities for a variety of copper wire sizes.
The ampacity of a conductor, that is, the amount of current it can carry, is related to its electrical resistance: a lower-resistance conductor can carry a larger value of current. The resistance, in turn, is determined by the material the conductor is made from (as described above) and the conductor's size. For a given material, conductors with a larger cross-sectional area have less resistance than conductors with a smaller cross-sectional area.
For bare conductors, the ultimate limit is the point at which power lost to resistance causes the conductor to melt. Aside from fuses, most conductors in the real world are operated far below this limit, however. For example, household wiring is usually insulated with PVC insulation that is only rated to operate to about 60 °C, therefore, the current in such wires must be limited so that it never heats the copper conductor above 60 °C, causing a risk of fire. Other, more expensive insulation such as Teflon or fiberglass may allow operation at much higher temperatures.
If an electric field is applied to a material, and the resulting induced electric current is in the same direction, the material is said to be an isotropic electrical conductor. If the resulting electric current is in a different direction from the applied electric field, the material is said to be an anisotropic electrical conductor.
|εr″ /||Current conduction||Field propagation|
|0|| perfect dielectric |
|≪ 1||low-conductivity material|
|≈ 1||lossy conducting material||lossy propagation medium|
|≫ 1||high-conductivity material|
An electric current is a flow of electric charge. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).
Ohm's law states that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the voltage across the two points. Introducing the constant of proportionality, the resistance, one arrives at the usual mathematical equation that describes this relationship:
The electrical resistance of an object is a measure of its opposition to the flow of electric current. The inverse quantity is electrical conductance, and is the ease with which an electric current passes. Electrical resistance shares some conceptual parallels with the notion of mechanical friction. The SI unit of electrical resistance is the ohm (Ω), while electrical conductance is measured in siemens (S).
Electrical resistivity is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly that material opposes the flow of electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows the flow of electric current. Resistivity is commonly represented by the Greek letter ρ (rho). The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm-metre (Ω⋅m). As an example, if a 1 m × 1 m × 1 m solid cube of material has sheet contacts on two opposite faces, and the resistance between these contacts is 1 Ω, then the resistivity of the material is 1 Ω⋅m.
Skin effect is the tendency of an alternating electric current (AC) to become distributed within a conductor such that the current density is largest near the surface of the conductor, and decreases with greater depths in the conductor. The electric current flows mainly at the "skin" of the conductor, between the outer surface and a level called the skin depth. The skin effect causes the effective resistance of the conductor to increase at higher frequencies where the skin depth is smaller, thus reducing the effective cross-section of the conductor. The skin effect is due to opposing eddy currents induced by the changing magnetic field resulting from the alternating current. At 60 Hz in copper, the skin depth is about 8.5 mm. At high frequencies the skin depth becomes much smaller. Increased AC resistance due to the skin effect can be mitigated by using specially woven litz wire. Because the interior of a large conductor carries so little of the current, tubular conductors such as pipe can be used to save weight and cost.
American wire gauge (AWG), also known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge, is a logarithmic stepped standardized wire gauge system used since 1857, predominantly in North America, for the diameters of round, solid, nonferrous, electrically conducting wire. Dimensions of the wires are given in ASTM standard B 258. The cross-sectional area of each gauge is an important factor for determining its current-carrying ampacity.
Eddy currents are loops of electrical current induced within conductors by a changing magnetic field in the conductor according to Faraday's law of induction. Eddy currents flow in closed loops within conductors, in planes perpendicular to the magnetic field. They can be induced within nearby stationary conductors by a time-varying magnetic field created by an AC electromagnet or transformer, for example, or by relative motion between a magnet and a nearby conductor. The magnitude of the current in a given loop is proportional to the strength of the magnetic field, the area of the loop, and the rate of change of flux, and inversely proportional to the resistivity of the material. When graphed, these circular currents within a piece of metal look vaguely like eddies or whirlpools in a liquid.
Electrical wiring is an electrical installation of cabling and associated devices such as switches, distribution boards, sockets and light fittings in a structure.
A power cable is an electrical cable, an assembly of one or more electrical conductors, usually held together with an overall sheath. The assembly is used for transmission of electrical power. Power cables may be installed as permanent wiring within buildings, buried in the ground, run overhead, or exposed.
Ampacity is a portmanteau for ampere capacity defined by National Electrical Codes, in some North American countries. Ampacity is defined as the maximum current, in amperes, that a conductor can carry continuously under the conditions of use without exceeding its temperature rating. Also described as current-carrying capacity.
IEC 60228 is the International Electrotechnical Commission's international standard on conductors of insulated cables. The current version is Third Edition 2004-11 Among other things, it defines a set of standard wire cross-sectional areas:
Aluminum building wiring is a type of electrical wiring for residential construction or houses that uses aluminum electrical conductors. Aluminum provides a better conductivity to weight ratio than copper, and therefore is also used for wiring power grids, including overhead power transmission lines and local power distribution lines, as well as for power wiring of some airplanes. Utility companies have used aluminum wire for electrical transmission in power grids since around the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It has cost and weight advantages over copper wires. Aluminum wire in power transmission and distribution applications is still the preferred material today.
Speaker wire is used to make the electrical connection between loudspeakers and audio amplifiers. Modern speaker wire consists of two or more electrical conductors individually insulated by plastic or, less commonly, rubber. The two wires are electrically identical, but are marked to identify the correct audio signal polarity. Most commonly, speaker wire comes in the form of zip cord.
Copper loss is the term often given to heat produced by electrical currents in the conductors of transformer windings, or other electrical devices. Copper losses are an undesirable transfer of energy, as are core losses, which result from induced currents in adjacent components. The term is applied regardless of whether the windings are made of copper or another conductor, such as aluminium. Hence the term winding loss is often preferred. The term load loss is closely related but not identical, since an unloaded transformer will have some winding loss.
Magnet wire or enameled wire is a copper or aluminium wire coated with a very thin layer of insulation. It is used in the construction of transformers, inductors, motors, speakers, hard disk head actuators, electromagnets, and other applications that require tight coils of insulated wire.
Aluminium conductor steel-reinforced cable (ACSR) is a type of high-capacity, high-strength stranded conductor typically used in overhead power lines. The outer strands are high-purity aluminium, chosen for its good conductivity, low weight and low cost. The center strand is steel for additional strength to help support the weight of the conductor. Steel is higher strength than aluminium which allows for increased mechanical tension to be applied on the conductor. Steel also has lower elastic and inelastic deformation due to mechanical loading as well as a lower coefficient of thermal expansion under current loading. These properties allow ACSR to sag significantly less than all-aluminium conductors. Per the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and The CSA Group naming convention, ACSR is designated A1/S1A.
Copper has been used in electrical wiring since the invention of the electromagnet and the telegraph in the 1820s. The invention of the telephone in 1876 created further demand for copper wire as an electrical conductor.
An electrical conduit is a tube used to protect and route electrical wiring in a building or structure. Electrical conduit may be made of metal, plastic, fiber, or fired clay. Most conduit is rigid, but flexible conduit is used for some purposes.
The International Annealed Copper Standard (IACS) is a standard established in 1914 by the United States Department of Commerce. It is an empirically derived standard value for the electrical conductivity of commercially available copper.
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