Aluminum vs Copper

Topics: Electrical conductor, Aluminium, Copper Pages: 21 (4256 words) Published: July 15, 2015
A COMPARISON OF ALUMINUM VS. COPPER AS USED IN
ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT
Larry Pryor, P.E. – Sr. Specification Engineer, GE Consumer & Industrial Rick Schlobohm, P.E. – Sr. Specification Engineer, GE Consumer & Industrial Bill Brownell, P.E – Specification Engineer, GE Consumer & Industrial

ABSTRACT
The debate over the pros and cons of aluminum vs.
copper conductors has been discussed for many
years. Many of the concerns are based on old
information and also misinformation.
These
concerns center on the very different properties of
the two materials and their suitability for
application within the Electrical Equipment
Industry.
Reliable performance from the
conductors, the joints and terminations of the
conductors is essential to the operation of the
electrical system. With the recent increases in the
cost of copper, customers are seeing these
increases passed on to them by the equipment
manufacturer. The variance in cost between
equipment with copper versus aluminum
conductors is now affecting the customer’s buying
decision.

strength limits its use to special applications
such as joint plating and sliding contact surfaces.
For the purposes of this paper, the areas of
discussion are:
-

-

Current Carrying Capacity, Conductivity
Physical Properties
a. Expansion
b. Weight
c. Tensile Strength
Connections and Terminations
Plating and Environmental Concerns
Product Offerings
Cost Comparison
Impact on Various Pieces of Equipment

CURRENT CARRYING CAPACITY
The electrical and mechanical properties of a
material are dependent on its alloy. For the
comparison between copper and aluminum in
this paper, the copper is cold-worked electrolytic
tough pitch copper similar to ASTM B187, alloy
UNC C11000. The copper used in electrical
equipment is nominally pure 98% conductivity
commercially hard based on the International
Annealed Copper Standard (IACS). Pure
Aluminum is not used as an electrical conductor
in equipment since it is too soft for mechanical
assemblies and is thus alloyed with other
materials. The Al alloy 1350 used prior to 1975
was designated as EC (Electrical Conductor)
grade aluminum with a 99.50% aluminum
content. Even though it has
61% the
conductivity of Cu it lacked in mechanical
properties making it less than ideal as a
conductor in the equipment. Al alloy 6101 is the
predominant aluminum bus bar material being
utilized and is stronger than 1350 Al because it
has been hardened by heat treatment, but it
only has 56% the conductivity of copper. The
reduced conductivity of AL 6101 does not mean
that the Al conductor will run hotter than the Cu

This paper provides a comparison of the
mechanical and electrical properties of copper (Cu)
and aluminum (Al) and their relevance as applied to
electrical distribution products. The offerings and
impact of Cu and Al on various pieces of
equipment is also discussed. The intended purpose
is to provide the user with the information
necessary to make an informed decision on the
selection of copper or aluminum conductors within
electrical equipment.
INTRODUCTION
Cu and Al are the two most commonly used
materials for conductors and bus bars in electrical
equipment.
Each has positive and negative
characteristics that affect their use in various
applications. Both materials have been in
continuous use in the electrical industry for many
years. While aluminum is the most abundantly
available of the two metals, the demand and
scarcity of Cu have caused its cost to fluctuate
widely. Silver is generally considered the best
electrical conductor, however its high cost and low

1

A COMPARISON OF ALUMINUM VS. COPPER AS USED IN
ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT
conductor but does mean that the Al conductor for
the same ampere rating must have a larger cross
sectional area.
To analyze the current carrying capacity, two
design criteria must be taken into consideration:
The temperature rise of the conductor...
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