If you are an electrical engineer or work regularly with electricity, then you are likely quite used to dealing with aluminum. As a metal that exhibits a number of positive properties related to electrical uses, aluminum has been an important contributor to a host of industries both directly and indirectly associated with electricity. Understanding which alloys are best suited for electrical applications is important for this reason.
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Please contact us to learn more about how the right aluminum alloy can help your electrical application perform at its best.
Why is aluminum so well suited for electrical applications?
It’s easy to tick off all of the many advantageous properties of aluminum. Naturally, it’s extremely lightweight, with a high strength-to-weight ratio. It’s also extremely corrosion resistant. This same coating also protects the metal from bacteria and moisture, which is why aluminum is so often used as a packaging material in the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries.
Aluminum’s sleek surface is non-staining and is easy to color and anodize. It’s also 100% recyclable, and that, combined with its lightweight, make it especially environmentally friendly. So it’s no wonder that since it first became possible to commercialize aluminum in a widespread manner, it has revolutionized or even made possible a host of industries, from building and construction to aerospace and aeronautics.
While many people are aware of at least some of the above properties, those who are not already in the know about aluminum may be surprised to learn how well it conducts electricity. Of all the known metals, aluminum is the second best at conducting electricity, behind only copper. However, because aluminum is significantly lighter than copper, it’s actually more effective as a conductor.
You may be surprised to learn that the majority of overhead power lines consist of aluminum cores. Taking a closer look, an aluminum wire, compared to a copper wire, will have a 50% larger cross section to pass the same amount of current as a copper wire. When you compare the weight, the aluminum wire is two times lighter. So it’s no wonder that with weight being a major consideration for overhead cables, aluminum has been the go to material since as early as the 1880’s.
What kind of aluminum is best for electrical wiring?
The most common aluminum alloys used for wires and cables come from the 1ххх, 6ххх, and 8ххх series. In fact, alloys from the 8ххх series have the capability of producing wires with a service life that can exceed 40 years.
To start, a solid aluminum rod with a diameter ranging from 9 to 15 mm is used as the work piece for the cable. This rod is easy to bend and roll and you don’t have to worry about cracking. In fact, the aluminum is so strong it’s nearly impossible to tear or break the rod, and it is able to withstand significant static loads.
To create a rod that is both durable and effective, a process of continuous casting and rolling is employed. The casted work piece then gets rolled through a mill several times until the desired size is achieved. The resulting cord is quite flexible and it gets rolled up into a large coil after cooling. Next, a special facility is required to draw the rods in order to get the final diameter, generally between 4 and .23mm.
What types of electrical applications rely on aluminum?
In addition to the electrical grid, there are a number of applications that rely on aluminum in the electrical and energy fields. For example, aluminum busbars have been the norm for more than 60 years, thanks to the light weight and durability. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a busbar is a system of electrical conductors in a generating or receiving station on which power is concentrated for distribution.
Aluminum is also frequently found in large industrial plants, for instance smelters and electrochemical plants, because of the need for large sections of cast bars (up to 600mm × 150mm). Aluminum is also a common material for switchgear and rising main systems. Furthermore, it is used in the windings of capacitors. They range in size from the smallest lighting fittings to industrial sized power capacitors.
Another of the beneficial properties of aluminum we haven’t yet mentioned that makes it a desirable material in the electrical and energy fields is its ability to transfer heat. Some examples of foil heating elements that can be made from aluminum include foil film wallpaper, curing concrete, and soil warming.
Because aluminum is relatively easy to extrude compared to many other metals, it’s a perfect choice heat sinks. It can be cast or extruded into solid or hollow shapes as needed to be used as a heat sink in devices such as semiconductors and transformer tanks. It’s also used in pole-mounted transformer tanks.
Furthermore, the new energy sector is increasingly turning to aluminum to power its innovations, with the goal of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. It can be found in solar panels themselves, as well as the housings that hold solar panels. Wind turbines also rely on different aluminum alloys, for a variety of mechanical parts.
Your Trusted Technical Resources Partner
Aluminum has been a critical component of electrical generation for nearly a century and a half, since the days of Thomas Edison. Recent years are seeing rapid advancements in the diversity and ability of aluminum alloys in all kinds of fields. Manufacturers and engineers need partners who can not only supply the right material, but can also help ensure they are optimizing their production process.
At Clinton Aluminum, our priority has always been helping our customers find the right material for the job. Contact one of our friendly customer service representatives today to learn more about what aluminum alloy might be right for you.