Copper has been the material of choice for electrical connectors for over 200 years, which 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 even further widespread demand for copper wire as an electrical conductor.
Today, copper is still the most common electrical conductor in many categories of electrical wiring. Copper is highly conductive of both electrical and thermal energy and is heavily used in power generation, power transmission, power distribution, telecommunications, electronics circuitry, and countless types of electrical equipment.
All metals have a certain amount of resistivity to electrical currents, which requires a power source to push the current through. The lower the level of resistivity, the more electrical conductivity a metal has with less heat is generated. Copper has low resistivity which makes it an excellent conductor, and aside from silver, copper is the most conductive metal. As an electrical conductor for building wire systems, copper is the most efficient, strongest, most reliable metal available today. Over the life of a system, copper can also be the most economical conductor money can buy as it is one of the only metals that can be reused time after time without losing any ductility, conductivity, or overall performance.
Coppers Use in Electronics
Copper is one of the oldest metals in the world, and today it is used in one of the most innovative markets: electronics. Copper is the third-most-consumed metal globally with over three-quarters of its consumption going towards electronics.
Most electronic components generate heat which can cause them to age and fail prematurely. This is especially true for today’s highly integrated microprocessors (computer chips). Copper’s thermal conductivity is about 60 percent greater than that of aluminum, meaning copper can remove significantly more heat quickly. The more heat removed from the processor, the more efficiently it will operate, with less potential for damage to other critical components.
Copper began being used for computer processors by IBM in 1997. As copper’s electricity conduction properties are up to 40% better than that of aluminum, IBM replaced aluminum components with new copper ones. Better conductors’ material meant that the length and width of cables could be reduced, thus decreasing the size of the device while simultaneously increasing its speed of processing data by 15%.
IBM, and many others, are using copper instead of aluminum in the most powerful computer chips they manufacture. Because of copper’s superior electrical conductivity, this technology enables conductor channel lengths and widths to be significantly reduced. Power requirements are now reduced to less than 1.8 volts, while the chips run cooler than ever before(Source). Copper is also used as an electrical conductor in the mobile-phone circuit board, with the average smartphone containing around 15 grams of copper.
Copper, which is never far from new technology, is used to enhance radio frequency identification (RFID) technology used for security, tracking, and purchasing systems in retail, manufacturing, transportation, and distribution. A typical RFID microchip is surrounded by a coiled copper antenna, the copper increases the distance at which the almost invisible RFID technology works.
Essential To Electricity
Copper is an essential metal for advancing technology and developing renewable energy sources. As a highly efficient conduit, renewable energy generation is heavily copper intensive. On average renewable energy sources are 5x more copper intensive than conventional power because it is more decentralized. Copper plays an important role in developing green energy including; battery-powered electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar power generation.
As only solid silver performs better, copper remains one of the best conductors of electricity and is both abundant and affordable. Due to its unique properties and uses, copper has long been the standard for both plumbing and electrical wiring in homes since its incorporation in construction. Aluminum was temporarily used in place of copper when constructing new homes, although it was not as reliable, leaving copper to remain as the standard for indoor wiring, outlets, and other household electrical conductors used today.
An average single-family home requires around 439 pounds of copper, with around 30% going to electrical appliances and power.
Some general uses of copper in home appliances include:
- 52 pounds – unitary air conditioner
- 48 pounds – unitary heat pump
- 5.0 pounds – dishwasher
- 4.8 pounds – refrigerator/freezer
- 4.4 pounds – clothes washer
- 2.7 pounds – dehumidifier
- 2.3 pounds – disposer
- 2.0 pounds – clothes dryer
- 1.3 pounds – range
On average there are 50-55 electrical outlets in a single-family home and approximately 15-20 switches. This translates to between 2-1/2 and 3 pounds of copper alloy for these uses per home.
Copper is essential to our daily lives in more ways than one. From building construction to transportation and electricity, copper has helped power society for hundreds of years and more to come.
Learn more about The Future of Copper.