Electrical conductor

Overhead conductors carry electric power from generating stations to customers.

In physics and electrical engineering, a conductor is an object or type of material that allows the flow of charge (electrical current) in one or more directions. Materials made of metal are common electrical conductors. Electrical current is generated by the flow of negatively charged electrons, positively charged holes, and positive or negative ions in some cases.

In order for current to flow, it is not necessary for one charged particle to travel from the machine producing the current to that consuming it. Instead, the charged particle simply needs to nudge its neighbor a finite amount who will nudge its neighbor and on and on until a particle is nudged into the consumer, thus powering the machine. Essentially what is occurring is a long chain of momentum transfer between mobile charge carriers; the Drude model of conduction describes this process more rigorously. This momentum transfer model makes metal an ideal choice for a conductor; metals, characteristically, possess a delocalized sea of electrons which gives the electrons enough mobility to collide and thus effect a momentum transfer.

As discussed above, electrons are the primary mover in metals; however, other devices such as the cationic electrolyte(s) of a battery, or the mobile protons of the proton conductor of a fuel cell rely on positive charge carriers. Insulators are non-conducting materials with few mobile charges that support only insignificant electric currents.

Resistance and conductance

A piece of resistive material with electrical contacts on both ends.

The resistance of a given conductor depends on the material it is made of, and on its dimensions. For a given material, the resistance is inversely proportional to the cross-sectional area.[1] For example, a thick copper wire has lower resistance than an otherwise-identical thin copper wire. Also, for a given material, the resistance is proportional to the length; for example, a long copper wire has higher resistance than an otherwise-identical short copper wire. The resistance R and conductance G of a conductor of uniform cross section, therefore, can be computed as[1]

where is the length of the conductor, measured in metres [m], A is the cross-section area of the conductor measured in square metres [m²], σ (sigma) is the electrical conductivity measured in siemens per meter (S·m−1), and ρ (rho) is the electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance) of the material, measured in ohm-metres (Ω·m). The resistivity and conductivity are proportionality constants, and therefore depend only on the material the wire is made of, not the geometry of the wire. Resistivity and conductivity are reciprocals: . Resistivity is a measure of the material's ability to oppose electric current.

This formula is not exact: It assumes the current density is totally uniform in the conductor, which is not always true in practical situation. However, this formula still provides a good approximation for long thin conductors such as wires.

Another situation this formula is not exact for is with alternating current (AC), because the skin effect inhibits current flow near the center of the conductor. Then, the geometrical cross-section is different from the effective cross-section in which current actually flows, so the resistance is higher than expected. Similarly, if two conductors are near each other carrying AC current, their resistances increase due to the proximity effect. At commercial power frequency, these effects are significant for large conductors carrying large currents, such as busbars in an electrical substation,[2] or large power cables carrying more than a few hundred amperes.

Aside from the geometry of the wire, temperature also has a significant effect on the efficacy of conductors. Temperature affects conductors in two main ways, the first is that materials may expand under the application of heat. The amount that the material will expand is governed by the thermal expansion coefficient specific to the material. Such an expansion (or contraction) will change the geometry of the conductor and therefore its characteristic resistance. However, this effect is generally small, on the order of 10−6. An increase in temperature will also increase the number of phonons generated within the material. A phonon is essentially a lattice vibration, or rather a small, harmonic kinetic movement of the atoms of the material. Much like the shaking of a pinball machine, phonons serve to disrupt the path of electrons, causing them to scatter. This electron scattering will decrease the number of electron collisions and therefore will decrease the total amount of current transferred.

Other Languages
العربية: موصل كهربائي
azərbaycanca: Keçirici materiallar
български: Проводник
Ελληνικά: Αγωγός
Esperanto: Konduktilo
한국어: 전기 전도체
Bahasa Indonesia: Penghantar listrik
íslenska: Rafleiðari
ქართული: გამტარი
қазақша: Сілтеуіш
Kreyòl ayisyen: Kondiktè
kurdî: Ragihbar
Latina: Conductrum
Bahasa Melayu: Pengalir elektrik
မြန်မာဘာသာ: လျှပ်ကူးပစ္စည်း
Nederlands: Geleider
日本語: 電気伝導体
norsk nynorsk: Elektrisk leiar
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Elektr oʻtkazgichlar
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਬਿਜਲਈ ਚਾਲਕ
Piemontèis: Condutor
português: Condutor elétrico
Simple English: Electrical conductor
slovenčina: Elektrický vodič
slovenščina: Električni prevodnik
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Električni vodič
українська: Провідник
Tiếng Việt: Chất dẫn điện
吴语: 电气导体
中文: 導體