The need to lower costs and improve grid performance, including during extreme weather events, prompted the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to invite researchers to develop conductivity-enhanced materials that can help upgrade and expand aging electric and transportation infrastructures. The agency recently named 10 teams as Stage 1 winners of the Conductivity-enhanced materials for Affordable, Breakthrough Leapfrog Electric and thermal applications (CABLE) Conductor Manufacturing Prize.

The CABLE Prize provides funding and technical assistance to advance new ideas that can enable U.S. manufacturers of cables and electrical equipment to leapfrog to next-generation conductive materials. Participants submitted breakthrough concepts for more conductive and affordable materials that could be Source: DOESource: DOEused for both electrical and thermal energy applications. These Stage 1 winners have each earned a $25,000 cash prize and a stipend to support third-party testing in Stage 2, when they must manufacture a microscale sample of their material:

  • As the Clean Carbon Conductors team, researchers from Rice University and DexMat Co, are designing enhanced-conductivity carbon nanotubes (CNTs) by improving fiber quality, alignment, packing density and by electrochemically doping the CNTs.
  • Team NAECO from Peachtree City, Georgia, submitted their entry for conductivity enhanced alloys with nano additives, which involves first mixing copper with trace amounts of additives before combining it with graphene using solid phase processing.
  • MetalKraft Technologies in Athens, Ohio, with members from Lehigh University, is also using solid phase processing to create copper-graphene ultra wire with small amounts of commercially available low-defect crystalline graphene.
  • In Niskayuna, New York, the GE Research team will use electron beam melting additive manufacturing of ultra-conductive components to fabricate a nano-carbon-metal composite from copper and low-cost graphite powder, carbon black, or possibly higher-cost nanostructured carbon.
  • VT Materials in Blacksburg, Virginia, submitted their entry for an enhanced conductivity overhead (ECO) wire made from aluminum (potentially from recycled wires), graphene and other nano additives.
  • Based in Butte, Montana, the 59701 Nano Innovations team is designing a highly conductive CNT-composite cable made from CNTs that are manufactured from carbon dioxide and small amounts of metal, such as copper from the local mine.
  • For their Intercalation compounds of carbon fibers (ICF) project, the University of Texas at Austin team will create a high-conductivity carbon fiber, which competes with CNTs in conductivity, by alternating layers of carbon fiber with transition metal chlorides.
  • The SuperWire team in Burlington, Massachusetts, proposed a manufacturing strategy for CNT power cables to create a lightweight, high-strength, braided CNT-metal-composite cable by adding either copper or aluminum.
  • The Super Cool Conductor from Selva Research Group in Houston, Texas, is making a rare-earth, high-temperature superconductor that could be manufactured at half the cost of copper and cooled with liquid nitrogen or cryocooling for applications such as long-duration electric storage.
  • In Ashland, Massachusetts, the NanoAL Lightning team is creating ultra-high-strength/highly conductive aluminum alloys using traditional manufacturing equipment and specialized nano processes to replace steel cores in overhead power lines.
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