UltraWire (Ultra Conductive Copper-Carbon Nanotube Wire) is the European Commission 7th Framework Programme (EC FP7) project (Grant Agreement No. 609057), with 14 partners from industry and academia that started on the 1st October 2013 and it will run until 30th September 2016.

Objectives of UltraWire

The most common traditional materials used in electrical energy distribution systems are copper and copper alloys. Modern applications show an increasing demand for better heat and electric current carrying capacity at the level beyond copper base materials. Nanocarbon materials, such as carbon nanotubes and graphene have attracted attention due to their high electrical, thermal conductivity and exceptional mechanical properties. It would appear that combining copper with high performance nanocarbons towards composite materials could offer immediate solution to problems encountered currently.

Copper nanocarbon composites could form the next generation of conductors, where copper contributes the benefits of electrical conductivity, whereas nanocarbon brings to this composite its low weight, flexibility, mechanical reinforcement and thermal management. Recent breakthrough in the chirality control of carbon nanotubes could contribute significantly to the electrical conductivity of these composite materials beyond the performance achieved by bulk copper conductors. The material and process costs required to achieve improvement of the overall performance of copper based electrical conductors, need to be compatible with large scale conductor manufacturing and overcome the issues such as the cost of the nanocarbons and the difficulty of scaling up the production processes.

This proposal is aimed at developing a copper nanocarbon composite with significantly improved overall properties, including electrical, thermal and mechanical performances over bulk copper. The proposal also aims to develop production process that will be scalable to large volume manufacture. A key breakthrough will be to achieve a continuous carbon nanotube/copper manufacturing of wires with superior properties using highly controlled carbon nanotubes and/or graphene developed at the University of Cambridge and currently produced at sufficient volumes with unique degree of structural control and molecular orientation.

Part of thinkstep in the project

The part of thinkstep in the project is covered by activities within WP7 and is mainly dedicated to the Life Cycle Analysis of different wire products relevant to the UltraWire project. The main objective of the work is to provide an integrated environmental assessment of different technologies, processes and systems developed in the course of the project. The results will act as a basis for further decision making and will provide quantitative data to ensure that the improvements are accompanied by the overall environmental improvement.