What are conductive materials?
Conductive materials are those that can conduct electricity to a greater or lesser extent. These types of materials allow electrons to flow freely and fluidly from one point to another if they are connected to a power source. Metals like copper, iron, gold, aluminum, and silver are the best materials for conducting electricity.
A material’s electrical conductivity is measured through the electrodes in a standardized aqueous solution at a certain temperature. The measurement’s result is the material’s ionic content, which makes it possible to determine its capacity for electrical conduction.
What characteristics do conductive materials have?
- They don’t offer any resistance to an electric current passing through them, ensuring its free circulation.
- They allow the free flow of electrons between particles, which facilitates electricity conduction. Copper is used as a reference to measure and compare other materials’ levels of conductivity.
- They have a high number of free electrons moving through them, facilitating the transmission of charge from one object to another.
- They have an atomic structure that allows electricity to flow without requiring a large amount of energy for the passage of electrons between one atom and another.
- They are highly malleable – that is, they can be handled without breaking.
- They have high resistance against wear, and they can be exposed to extreme conditions, like high temperatures, without being affected.
- They have an insulating layer so that the electric current doesn’t come into contact with the surface where it’s used domestically or industrially.
What types of conductive materials are there?
Conductive materials are classified according to how electricity is conducted.
- Metallic conductors: free electrons carry the charge, so conduction is electrical. Both metals and alloys (the fusion of one or more metals) belong to this classification.
- Gaseous conductors: these are in a gaseous state and go through an ionization process where they gain or lose electrons; this gives them the ability to conduct electricity.
- Electrolytic conductors: electrical conduction in these materials occurs through a chemical reaction that divides a charge-carrying substance into positive and negative poles. With this type of material, electric current flows as matter is displaced.
How are conducting materials different from semiconductors and insulators?
Unlike conductive materials, insulating materials prevent the flow of electrical charges, and semiconductors may allow and stop the conduction of electrical energy. Insulating materials also protect electrical currents from contact with other sources and currents. Semiconductor materials, on the other hand, conduct electricity under specific conditions and in only one direction while stopping it from flowing in the opposite direction.
Insulating materials include rubber, wood, plastic, and ceramics; a few semiconductors are silicon, germanium, and sulfur.
Examples of conductive materials
- Silver: it is considered the best conductor of electricity, though it is often only used in specific cases due to its high cost.
- Hardened copper: this is the conductive material par excellence. While it doesn’t have the same conductivity as silver, its low cost means that it is used in most machinery and appliance wiring systems.
- Gold: Like silver, it is used as a conductor in specific applications like phones or watches.
- Steel and aluminum: they are characterized by their low cost and high conductivity. They are frequently used in industrial areas.
- Bronze: it has characteristics similar to silver and gold, meaning it is highly conductive but has a high cost for being used regularly.
- Hydrogen: an excellent gas with high electrical conductivity. However, it tends to have some chemical instability when it goes through the ionization process.
- Mercury: while it’s not used often due to its high levels of toxicity, this material can be in a gaseous, liquid, or solid state, depending on the temperatures to which it is subjected.
- Salt solutions: these are perfect conductors due to the ionization process of salts in aqueous mediums.
- Graphite: this organic material is made up of carbon chains and is used to conduct electrical circuits.