Presented by University of Cambridge, National Grid, British Telecommunications plc, Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Wright State University and Adam Mickiewicz University

Dr Krzysztof Koziol
Department of Material Science, University of Cambridge

Agnieszka Lekawa-Raus
Department of Material Science, University of Cambridge

Further reading

Koziol, K. et al. 2007 High performance carbon nanotube fiber. Science 318, 1892-1895

Janas, D. et al. 2013 Performance of carbon nanotube wires in extreme conditions. Carbon 62, 438-446

Sundaram, R. et al. 2011 Continuous direct spinning of fibers of single-walled carbon nanotubes with metallic chirality. Advanced Materials 23, 5064-5068

How electricity is distributed relies on metal conductors such as copper and aluminium, which can wear down and inefficiently carry energy. The amount of energy lost from domestic devices is also a key issue with the growing concern for energy conservation. Creating channels with low electrical resistance and high current capacity is essential to meet the energy demands and conservation needs of the future.

See the scientists explain the science behind their exhibit in the video above, produced by students from Imperial College: Joy Ng, Andrew Mehigan

How it works

Creating new conducting materials is necessary to improve energy delivery and decrease inefficiency. Carbon nanotubes are made entirely of carbon atoms with a unique molecular structure, which creates ultra-light and ultra-strong wires. Offering high conductivity and superior density, they can carry an immense amount of current at room temperature, significantly reducing energy loss.

The nanotubes can be used to create thin mobile batteries, stronger and more resilient domestic wiring, and incredibly strong and light building materials to be used in space, aviation and automotive industries.  Carbon nanotube wires are also quick to manufacture. Scientists have developed a process that can create 50 metres in a minute.

The wires are 30 times stronger than currently used conducting materials, allowing them to be used in cables without needing special reinforcement. Carbon nanotubes can provide a lightweight, efficient and easily manufactured alternative to metal conductors with the added benefit of significantly reducing energy consumption.

Lead image: High Temperature Furnace with Nanotube clouds