Case Studies

Copper makes batteries safer

Many objects around the home, such as shavers, mixers, TV remotes, cameras and torches would be useless without the alkaline batteries that power them. For those with children, running out of replacement batteries for toys, games consoles and other gadgets can be cause a family crisis. Batteries are also used outdoors for garden equipment and in offices and schools. It is hard to imagine a world without them.

A new, innovative battery wire has simplified the basic mechanics of the alkaline battery even further, making it safer, more environmentally friendly and helping improve performance. That’s why major battery manufacturers are committed to introducing it into their final products.

Alkaline battery operation is based on the conductivity of copper, with so-called battery nails functioning as anode current collectors. Traditionally, the wire in battery nails was made from a copper-zinc alloy plated with a fine layer of tin to reduce hydrogen gas evolution in the cell. The tin was applied using an electro-plating process. During use, hydrogen gas is produced as part of the natural oxidation process which, under specific circumstances, can mix with air to create an explosive atmosphere.

The new battery wire uses a modified copper alloy that already contains tin, thereby eliminating the electro-plating process and its related waste stream. The new wire increases safety by halving the production of hydrogen gas. It also offers cost savings, limits leakage and extends battery life.

Copper makes vehicles safe and comfortable

The cars we see on today’s roads are very different to those being driven just a decade ago. It is also quite likely that the vehicles that will be around in ten years’ time are almost unthinkable today. Automotive manufacturers are continually striving to make their products more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, more comfortable and attractive and to add novel features that will inspire their customers. But, they need to achieve all this without adding extra weight.

Brass alloys have been used for decades in the automotive and industrial equipment sectors. However, as the operating temperature of combustion engines has continued to increase, new alloys are required to deliver the necessary performance.

The copper industry has designed an innovative, brass alloy specifically to meet the high-performance requirements of automotive and machine building applications. It consists of 70% copper along with smaller amounts of manganese, aluminium, silicon, iron and zinc.

The new alloy offers the potential to realise light weight construction and space savings, supporting the downsizing trend in automotive engine technology. It has a far better resistance to heat, compared to other competing materials, and shows no signs of softening even up to 400°C. It also has outstanding wear resistance, is more environmentally friendly, in both production and end-use, but retains the advantages of other brass alloys, such as superior machinability and workability.

Copper empowers affordable solar energy

With traditional sources of energy unlikely to last forever, the hunt is on to find the most sustainable alternative means of supply. Photovoltaic technology, powered by the sun, has matured far more rapidly than foreseen and surpassed what was originally expected of it. Solar panels have quickly become more popular and hence more affordable.  Copper has played a big part in that.

Due to its intrinsic characteristics, such as conductivity, processability, ability to be plated and its mechanical properties, copper has always been the material of choice for the efficient extraction of electricity from the solar cell. Relatively thick but soft copper is preferred for use in silicon cells to reduce fragility and because soft copper offers faster throughput and better low yield strength.

With this in mind, manufacturers have created a new copper-based material that makes the automated, mass production of solar panels possible. The new PV connector ribbon, as it’s known, consists of an extremely pure type of copper that is rolled flat from a round wire and then coated with tin. The product’s key benefit is its strength. PV ribbons allow for the production of thinner wafers, reduced electrical resistance, maximised power output and a far more automated production process.

Such mass production makes them much more affordable and broadens the market penetration for this renewable energy technology. While this means a higher share of sustainable energy production, with a lower CO2 footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, unfortunately, it can’t guarantee the sun will shine more often

Copper keeps trains fast and reliable

Now that we’ve experienced the benefits of high-speed trains, taking us to where we want to be faster and more conveniently than even before, we wouldn’t want to go back. Thanks to the copper industry, we won’t even have to think about it. A new generation contact wire provides a superior alternative to the costly copper-silver contact wire commonly used in the overhead catenary systems, and it’s kinder to the environment. The new wire, which is still > 99.9% copper, incorporates  very small amounts of alloys that improve wear resistance, by up to 50%, without reducing conductivity. By adjusting the alloy composition, a producer can tailor the wire’s performance to meet specific customer requirements.

One important factor in increasing the top speed of trains is the ability to keep the engine’s pantograph in continuous contact with the overhead power line. As the train’s speed increases, the more the power line moves up and down, a phenomenon known as wave propagation. The higher tension of the new wire reduces this movement enabling maximum speeds to be increased.

In comparison to existing copper-silver based wires, the new wire also offers a 40% cost saving and up to 50% lower wear. The latter results in substantially longer service lives, lowers routine maintenance efforts and improves resource efficiency, since fewer replacements lines are required.

Copper protects offshore power plants

As the need for alternative energy supplies increases, offshore structures, such as wind farms  become more important. However, as with existing oil and gas platforms, their marine locations expose them to heavy stresses and a severely corrosive environment. They must withstand seawater and UV light, plus tidal and wave action. A new type of boat-landing, developed by the copper industry specifically for wind farms, provides a protective cloak around vulnerable areas and offers reliable protection against humidity and high salinity while having a low susceptibility to the attachment of marine grasses and shellfish.

The boat-landing is completely sheathed with a copper-nickel alloy which has proven to be a very cost-effective and long-lasting alternative to conventional coating systems. It is seawater-resistant and already used widely in marine applications due to its unique combination of properties. Copper-nickel also more easily absorbs impacts from the docking manoeuvres of the maintenance ships. This alloy is easy to work with and has outstanding welding properties both of which shorten installation times and maintenance work.

Copper increases energy efficiency in air-conditioning

Originally designed for public spaces, in warm climates, air conditioning (AC) systems have become increasingly popular in our offices, our modes of transport and even our homes. As a result, the amount of energy used by these systems has also increased. The HVAC industry has responded by looking for solutions that are more energy efficient, use less refrigerants, including those that are not harmful to the ozone layer, and are more economical overall.

Innovations in copper tube design have delivered significant performance benefits to the overall performance of AC units. Now the tubes are both smaller in diameter and feature micro grooves on the inside wall. Together, these characteristics improve heat transfer between the refrigerant and the tube walls and improve energy efficiency. The tubes require less material, allow the use of lower refrigerant charges, and offer enhanced design flexibility. While consumer unit redesign may be desired, for aesthetic purposes, the new tube technology remains compatible with existing production methods and equipment used in the HVAC industry. These MicroGroove tubes are available in a range of alloys to ensure they can meet all market needs.

Copper enables smaller electronic devices

When Alexander Bell invented the telephone, his aim was to enable two individuals to talk to one another without being in the same location. What would he make of today’s devices?  Making and receiving phone calls is a very minor part of what today’s (mobile) phones are used for. Consumers demand large memories, cameras, music players, sensors and many other features, and all in a much smaller package. The need for miniaturisation makes the micro-soldering of gold wire or tin-based flip chip extremely difficult and, as a result, traditional wire bonding interconnections between chips and external circuitry has reached its limits.

The industry has found a way to extend those limits by using copper pillar technology. This eliminates the problem of micro-soldering as the pillars are deposited directly onto the wafer through a so called ‘bumping’ with the tin-silver solder caps that create interconnections between the chip and the substrate. This innovation allows smaller input-output distances, compared to micro-soldering, and increases the quality and reliability of interconnections. For manufacturers, it means cost savings, increased design flexibility, processability and reliability, and less environmental impact. For consumers, it means the enjoyment of increasingly performing products.