COPPER CLAD ALUMINUM WIRE/ CONDUCTORS BASIC INFORMATION

What are copper clad aluminum conductors?

Copper-clad aluminum is the newest conductor material on the market. A copper-clad aluminum conductor is drawn from copper-clad aluminum rod, the copper being bonded metallurgically to an aluminum core. The copper forms a minimum of 10 percent of the cross-sectional area of the solid conductor or of that of each strand of a stranded conductor.

Although copper-clad aluminum contains only 10 percent of copper by volume (26.8 percent by weight), its electrical performance is equivalent to that of pure copper. It is lighter and easier to handle, and the price advantage, which reflects the value of the copper content, can be as much as 25 percent when copper peaks to one of its periodic highs. Detailed studies by Battelle Laboratories have shown that copper-clad aluminum and copper have the same connection reliability.

Because the electrical industry consumes 60 percent of all copper used in the United States, it is critically affected by copper’s fluctuating costs and uncertain supply. Until recently, however, aluminum was the only alternative to copper.

Aluminum, in the more than 70 years since its introduction as an electrical conductor, has significantly penetrated such areas as electric power transmission lines, transformer windings, and telephone communications cables. On the other hand, it has received relatively limited acceptance in nonmetallic-sheathed cable and other small-gage building wires. The reason has been a lack of acceptable means of connecting or terminating aluminum conductors of 6 AWG or smaller cross-sectional areas.

Connector manufacturers, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and aluminum companies have devoted much attention to this connection problem. The most significant advance in aluminum termination has been the institution of UL’s new requirements and testing procedures for wiring devices for use in branch-circuit-size aluminum conductors. Devices which meet the revised UL requirements are marked CO/ALR and carry that mark on the mounting strap. Only CO/ALR switches and receptacles should be used in aluminum 15- and 20-A branchcircuit wiring.

Copper-clad aluminum is now available to counter the disadvantages of high price and lack of availability of copper and the problems of connection reliability of aluminum. It is a product of a metallurgical material system, i.e., a system in which two or more metals are inseparably bonded in a design that utilizes the benefits of each component metal while minimizing their deficiencies. In copper-clad aluminum conductors, the electrical reliability of copper is combined with the abundant supply, stable price, and light weight of aluminum.

Copper-clad aluminum is already being used for building wire, battery cable, magnet wire, and radio-frequency (rf ) coaxial cable.

The ampacity (current-carrying capacity) of copper-clad aluminum conductors is the same as that of aluminum conductors. It is required that the wire connectors used with copper-clad aluminum conductors be recognized for use with copper and copper-clad aluminum conductors and be marked CC-CU or CU-AL, except that 12-10 AWG solid copper-clad aluminum conductors may be used with wire-binding screws and in pressureplate connecting mechanisms that are recognized for use for copper conductors.

Copperclad aluminum conductors are suitable for intermixing with copper and aluminum conductors in terminals for splicing connections only when the wire connectors are specifically recognized for such use. Such intermixed connections are limited to dry locations.

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