Difference Between Copper & Aluminum Cables

The main difference between copper & aluminum cables is the difference in their conductivity. Copper cables have more conductivity than aluminum cables. We will discuss the differences between these types of cables in detail.

The Cooper & aluminum cables are two types of cables that have wide applications in an industrial installation. The main function of the cable is to carry the current from the source to the load. The cable has mainly the following parts.

  • The conductor that carries the current
  • The insulation that insulates the live conductors
  • Inner sheath- Provides insulation to cable conducting cores
  • Armour- Provides the mechanical strength to cable
  • Outer sheath – Provide overall insulation to cable

The aluminum and copper cables have almost all the cable parts in common. The main difference is the core material. The aluminum cables have conductors made of aluminum. On the other hand, the copper cables have conductors made of copper.

Difference Between Copper & Aluminum  Cables

Difference between Copper Cables & Aluminium Cables

The following are the differences between copper and aluminum cables on the basis of cable sizing, cost, impedance cable weight, flexibility, and termination. We will discuss all those points in detail.

Cable sizing

There is a big difference between the current carrying capacity of the copper and aluminum cable. The copper cable of the same size as the aluminum cable can carry more current. The reason behind this is the different conductivity of copper and aluminum. The aluminum conductor has a lower current-carrying capacity and higher impedance than the equivalent copper conductor.

Read More: Current Carrying Capacity of Aluminium Cable

The conductivity of the copper and aluminum at 20°C is 5.98×10⁷ S/m & 3.5×10⁷ S/m, respectively. Thus, the conductivity of the copper conductor is about 1.7 times the conductivity of the aluminum conductor.

Impedance of Cable

The conductivity of the aluminum cable is less than that of the copper cable. This clearly indicates that the resistance of the aluminum cable is more than that of the copper cable. The impedance of copper cable with a current-carrying capacity of 135 amperes is 0.627 Ω/km. If we now select the same size of the aluminum cable, then its current-carrying capacity is 95 amperes, and its impedance is 1.043 Ω/km.

Here, the point is why the user must be concerned about the cable impedance. When current flows in a conductor, the voltage drop and power loss occur throughout the length of the conductor. There will be more power loss(I2R) in aluminum cable in comparison to copper cable because of its higher resistance. Moreover, the voltage drop will be also more, causing less voltage at the receiving end.

Read More: Cable Power Loss Calculation

Difference between Copper and aluminum Cable: Cable Flexibility

The aluminum cable is more flexible than the copper cable. However, the tensile strength and the fatigue resistance of the aluminum cable are less than that of copper.

Material PropertiesUnitCopperAluminum
Tensile strengthN/mm2150 – 30050 – 100
Fatigue resistance N/mm260 – 11520 – 45

From the above table, it is clear that the tensile strength and the fatigue resistance of the copper conductor are better than the aluminum. These properties of copper allow the use of small-diameter-stranded conductors in the cable. As a result, the copper cable is more flexible for the stranded conductor. Also, the high tensile strength of the copper cable can withstand high stress without wear and tear.

Oxidation of conductor

The aluminum conductors are prone to oxidizing. The oxidization on the conductor and at the contact point increases the resistance. As a result, there is a chance of getting the cable heated up. On the other hand, the copper cable is not apt to oxidize.

Difference between Copper & Aluminum Cable: Weight of the Cable

The weight of the copper cable is more than the aluminum cable of the same size. This adds to the complexity of the installation. Moreover, the copper cable requires more mechanical support over long distances to keep it in place. As a result, the installation cost of the copper cable is higher. An Aluminium Conductor Steel Reinforced(ACSR) conductor is used in a transmission line. It reduces the weight of the transmission towers and their supports.

Read More: ACSR Conductor: Types, Properties and its Advantages.

Coefficient of Thermal Expansion

The coefficient of thermal expansion of the materials shows the degree of change in its dimension with a rise in temperature. Copper cable has a lower coefficient of thermal expansion than aluminum cable. The coefficient of thermal expansion for aluminum is 35% greater than that of copper.

Cable Termination

When connecting copper cables, tin-plated copper lugs are crimped. This makes a solid copper-to-copper connection. However, when terminating aluminum cable, a special lug made of bi-metals ( Al-Cu) is used to have a minimum contact resistance inside the lug area.

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