Best Conductor of Electricity – Choosing the Right Metals

December 20, 2018

At Quest-Tech, we use various grades of carbon, stainless steel, aluminum, brass and copper, and have the production capacity to meet your manufacturing needs under one roof. Though all metals (and a few metal alloys) conduct electricity to an extent, there are some that are more conductive than others. 

Silver

The best conductor of electricity is pure silver, but to no surprise, it is not one of the most commonly used metals to conduct electricity.

The wide use of pure silver has a couple of drawbacks. First, it tends to tarnish with usage, which causes issues related to ‘skin effect,’ i.e., the unequal distribution of current that can occur across high-frequency currents. The second drawback is the most obvious—it is simply too expensive to run silver wire through a building—far more expensive than aluminum or copper.

Copper

One of the most commonly used metals to conduct electricity is copper. As a material, copper is pliable, easy to wrap or solder, which makes it the best choice when large amounts of wiring are needed. Copper’s core electrical function is related to the transmission of electricity and power generation. It is used in motors, generators, transformers, and bush bars. When properly installed, it is the safest and most efficient metal to produce electricity.

Copper is commonly used as an effective conductor in household appliances and in electrical equipment in general. Because of its low cost, most wires are copper-plated. You will often find electromagnet cores normally wrapped with copper wire. Copper is also used in microelectronic conductors, electric circuits and microprocessors because of its high conductivity and low resistance to joule heating. It is also used in mobile phones, TVs and computers.

Aluminum

Aluminum is yet another metal known for its high conductivity of electricity. Though by volume its conductivity is only 60% of copper, by weight, one pound of aluminum has the electrical current-carrying capacity of two pounds of copper. This makes it a very cost-efficient material, and because of this, it has increasingly replaced copper in some electrical-related applications.

Aluminum is used in long-distance power lines, high voltage electrical transmission and distribution on the utility grid; and, in the service drop, service entrance and building wire feeders. Its density and exceptionally lower cost make it a very smart choice for many large-scale electrical applications like electrical power cables, electrical power connectors, and even circuit breaker electrical contacts. Aluminum is often used in satellite dishes.

Gold

Gold is also known for its high conductivity, but because of its cost, it is only used in moderation. Microchips may have gold wires for connections and, where applications require high resistance to oxidation and corrosion along with high conductivity, very thin gold plating is used.

When it comes to metal alloys, their physical properties can improve the main metal in areas such as strength, durability, withstanding environmental conditions, and electrical applications.

For example, brass – an alloy of copper – is also used to conduct electricity. It’s made by adding approximately 30% zinc to pure copper. Though a brass alloy’s electrical and thermal conductivity is only 28% that of copper, its non-magnetic properties make it ideal for electrical and electronic terminals and connectors.  

Stainless Steel

Though not known for electrical conductivity, different grades of stainless steel have important electrical applications. Type 304 and Type 316 are the most common grades used in the electrical industry for its superior resistance to corrosion. Electrical enclosures for wall-mounts, floor mounts, and freestanding junction boxes are made with stainless steel.

Quest-Tech knows that choosing the right metals for a job can make all the difference, whether electrical or for other requirements. Our expertise is in producing metal components and structural fabrication assemblies, and we’re here to help answer any questions you have and to help you make the right decision. Want to use Quest-Tech for your next project? Contact us today!