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What is Conductor | Working | Types | Characteristics | Application

Conductor is a substance that facilitates the flow of electric current by allowing electrons to move through them in response to an applied electric field. Their low resistance and ability to carry current efficiently make them crucial components in electrical circuits and systems.


Table of Contents

What is a Conductor?

A conductor is a material or object that allows the flow of electrical current through it with little resistance. Conductors are essential components in electrical circuits as they facilitate the movement of electric charges, such as electrons, within the material.

Electrical Conductor Examples

Metals are the most common type of electrical conductors, as they have free electrons that are loosely bound and can move easily through the material in response to an electric field. Some examples of common electrical conductors include copper, aluminum, silver, and gold.

They are utilized in various applications, ranging from everyday household wiring to more complex electrical systems and devices. Their ability to conduct electricity efficiently makes them an integral part of modern technology and infrastructure.

How Electrical Conductor Works?

The functioning of a conductor relies on the movement of electric charges, typically electrons, within the material. When a conductor is connected to an electric circuit and a voltage (potential difference) is applied across it, the following process occurs:


Electron Starts to Flow

Inside a conductor, there are loosely bound electrons in the outermost electron shells of the atoms. When a voltage is applied across the conductor, an electric field is created. This field exerts a force on the electrons, causing them to move in response to the applied voltage.

The Introduction of Drift Velocity – Electrical Conductor

Though electrons move in response to the electric field, their overall movement is relatively slow. This is because, in a conductor, electrons experience collisions with atoms and other electrons, hindering their flow. The average velocity of the electron movement due to the electric field is called the “drift velocity.”

Electric Current Generates 

The movement of electrons through the conductor constitutes an electric current. It is essential to understand that the electric current is the flow of negatively charged electrons from the negative terminal to the positive terminal of the voltage source, even though the conventional current direction is considered from the positive terminal to the negative terminal (historically defined before the understanding of electron flow).

Heating Effects – Electrical Conductor

As electrons move through the conductor and experience collisions with atoms, they transfer some of their kinetic energy to the atoms. This energy transfer results in the heating of the conductor. In high-current applications, this heating effect needs to be considered to prevent the conductor from overheating and damaging the circuit.


The ease with which electrons can move within the conductor is measured by its resistance. Conductors typically have low resistance, meaning they offer little opposition to the flow of electric current. This low resistance ensures that the conductor can efficiently carry current without significant energy loss.

The relationship between voltage (V), current (I), and resistance (R) in a conductor is defined by Ohm’s Law: V = I * R. It states that the voltage across a conductor is directly proportional to the current passing through it and inversely proportional to its resistance.

                            Read Also
Ohms Law – Voltage, Current & Resistance Relation, When Not Applicable

Types of Electrical Conductor

Conductors can be classified into various types based on different criteria such as the material they are made of, their application, or their specific properties. Here are some common types of conductors:

Metal Conductors 

Metal conductors are the most common type of conductors and are widely used in electrical and electronic applications. Some of the most common metal conductors include:

Metal Conductor

    • Copper (Cu): One of the most widely used conductors due to its excellent conductivity and other desirable properties.
    • Aluminum (Al): Used in applications where weight is a concern, such as power transmission lines.
    • Silver (Ag): Has the highest electrical conductivity among metals, but it is expensive and less commonly used.



Superconductors are materials that exhibit zero electrical resistance when cooled below a critical temperature. They have the unique property of allowing electric current to flow without any loss of energy due to resistance. However, superconductors require extremely low temperatures to function in this state, which makes them more suitable for specialized applications like in certain medical devices or high-power applications.

High-Temperature Superconductors (HTS)

These are a type of superconductor that can operate at relatively higher temperatures compared to conventional superconductors. HTS materials still require cooling, but their critical temperatures are higher, making them more practical for certain applications, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines and power cables.

Carbon Nanotubes – Electrical Conductor

Carbon Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes have exceptional electrical conductivity and unique mechanical properties. They are being studied for potential use in high-performance electronic devices and nanoscale circuits.

Composite Conductor

Composite Conductor

Composite conductors are made by combining different materials to enhance specific properties. An example is aluminum conductors with steel cores, commonly used in overhead power transmission lines, where the steel provides strength and the aluminum provides conductivity.

Electrolytes – Electrical Conductor


In certain electrochemical processes, ionic conductors are used as electrolytes to allow the flow of ions, not electrons, which is essential for battery and fuel cell operation.

Stranded Conductor

Stranded Conductor

Conductors in power cables and wires are often made of multiple thin strands of metal rather than a single solid wire. Stranded conductors are more flexible and less prone to breakage, making them suitable for applications requiring frequent bending or movement.

Busbars – Electrical Conductor


Busbars are flat metal bars used to distribute electric power in electrical switchgear, distribution boards, and substations.

These are just some of the many types of conductors available, each with specific properties suited for different applications in electrical engineering, electronics, and other fields. The choice of conductor depends on factors such as the required current-carrying capacity, operating conditions, cost, and other performance considerations.

Characteristics of Electrical Conductor

Conductors exhibit several characteristics that make them essential components in electrical systems and devices. Here are the key characteristics of conductors:


Electrical Conductivity

The primary and most important characteristic of conductors is their ability to conduct electricity. They allow the flow of electric current with little resistance due to the presence of free or delocalized electrons that can move through the material in response to an electric field.

Low Resistance – Electrical Conductor

Conductors have low electrical resistance, which means they offer minimal opposition to the flow of electric current. Low resistance ensures that the conductor efficiently carries current without significant energy losses in the form of heat.

Free Electrons

In conductors, there are free electrons in the outermost energy levels of atoms that are not tightly bound to individual atoms. These free electrons are responsible for conducting electricity through the material.

Heat Dissipation – Electrical Conductor

When an electric current flows through a conductor, it experiences resistance, which results in the generation of heat. The ability of conductors to dissipate this heat is an important consideration, especially in high-current applications, to prevent overheating and potential damage to the conductor or surrounding components.

Ductility and Malleability

Many conductive materials, such as copper and aluminum, are ductile and malleable, which means they can be easily drawn into wires or shaped into various forms without losing their electrical conductivity.

Corrosion Resistance – Electrical Conductor

Some conductive materials, like copper, possess good corrosion resistance, ensuring their long-term reliability and effectiveness in various environments.

Mechanical Strength

Conductors must have sufficient mechanical strength to withstand handling, installation, and mechanical stress, especially in applications where they might be subject to movement or tension.

Application Versatility – Electrical Conductor

Conductors are used in a wide range of applications, from simple electrical wiring in buildings to complex electrical systems in vehicles, electronics, and power generation and distribution.

Current-Carrying Capacity

The maximum amount of current a conductor can carry without exceeding its temperature rating is an important consideration in designing electrical systems.

Economic Considerations

The cost of conductive materials is an important factor, especially in large-scale applications such as power transmission lines, where using cost-effective conductors is crucial.

Skin Effect

At higher frequencies, the flow of current in conductors tends to concentrate near the surface due to the skin effect, which is important to consider in high-frequency applications.

Application of Electrical Conductor

Conductors find extensive applications in various fields due to their ability to efficiently carry electric current. Some of the key applications of conductors include:


Electrical Wiring 

Conductors like copper and aluminum wires are used in residential, commercial, and industrial electrical wiring to distribute electricity from power sources to outlets, lighting fixtures, appliances, and other electrical devices.

Power Transmission Lines – Electrical Conductor

High-voltage conductors made of aluminum, aluminum alloys, or copper-clad steel are used in overhead power transmission lines to transport electricity over long distances from power plants to substations and distribution networks.


Conductors are used in electronic circuits to establish electrical connections between components, such as resistors, capacitors, transistors, and integrated circuits, enabling the flow of current and the functioning of electronic devices.

Motors and Generators – Electrical Conductor

Conductive materials, such as copper windings, are used in electric motors and generators to create magnetic fields and convert electrical energy into mechanical energy (motors) or vice versa (generators).

Busbars and Electrical Panels

Copper or aluminum busbars are used in electrical switchgear and distribution boards to distribute electric power to various circuits and devices within a building or industrial facility.

Power Cables – Electrical Conductor

Conductors are the core component of power cables, which are used to transmit electricity underground or underwater, where overhead transmission lines are not feasible.

Heating Elements

Some conductive materials, like nichrome, are used as heating elements in appliances like toasters, ovens, and electric heaters, where they convert electrical energy into heat.

Grounding and Earthing

Conductive materials like copper rods or strips are used for grounding and earthing systems to provide a safe path for excess electrical charges to dissipate into the ground, protecting equipment and personnel from electrical hazards.

Automotive Applications – Electrical Conductor

Conductors are used in automotive wiring harnesses, battery cables, spark plug wires, and various electrical components within vehicles.


Conductive materials are used as electrodes in electroplating processes to deposit metal coatings on surfaces for decorative or functional purposes.

Telecommunications – Electrical Conductor

Conductors, such as copper or optical fibers, are used in telecommunication cables to transmit data and communication signals over long distances.

Aerospace and Defense

Conductive materials are used in aerospace and defense applications, including aircraft wiring, satellite components, radar systems, and military equipment.

Renewable Energy Systems – Electrical Conductor

Conductors play a crucial role in solar panels and wind turbines, where they facilitate the transfer of generated electricity for integration into the power grid.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Conductor

Advantages of Conductors:


High Electrical Conductivity

Conductors have excellent electrical conductivity, allowing them to efficiently carry electric current with minimal resistance. This characteristic is essential for the smooth functioning of electrical systems and devices.

Low Resistance

The low resistance of conductors ensures that energy losses due to heat generation are minimized, making them energy-efficient components in electrical circuits.

Widespread Availability

Many conductive materials, such as copper and aluminum, are abundant and readily available, making them cost-effective choices for various applications.

Ductility and Malleability

Conductive metals are ductile and malleable, making them easy to shape into wires, cables, and other forms needed for different applications.

Mechanical Strength

Many conductors, such as copper, possess good mechanical strength, allowing them to withstand bending, twisting, and other mechanical stresses.

Corrosion Resistance

Some conductors, particularly copper, exhibit good corrosion resistance, ensuring their long-term reliability in various environmental conditions.

High Current-Carrying Capacity

Conductors can handle high currents without significant overheating, making them suitable for a wide range of power transmission and high-current applications.

Versatility in Applications

Conductors find applications in various fields, including electrical power transmission, electronics, telecommunications, automotive, aerospace, and more.

Disadvantages of Conductors:


Heat Generation

When electric current flows through a conductor, resistance to its flow results in the generation of heat, leading to potential energy losses and the need for heat dissipation measures.

Limited Use in High-Temperature Environments

Some conductors can experience reduced conductivity or mechanical degradation at high temperatures, limiting their use in high-temperature applications.

Corrosion and Oxidation Concerns

Certain conductive materials, like aluminum, can suffer from corrosion and oxidation issues, affecting their electrical performance and reliability.

Cost in Some Applications

While many conductive materials are cost-effective, some high-performance conductors (e.g., silver) can be expensive, making them less practical.

Limited Superconductivity

While superconductors have zero resistance, they typically require extremely low temperatures to operate, which adds complexity and cost.

Skin Effect at High Frequencies

In high-frequency applications, the skin effect causes current to concentrate near the surface of the conductor, potentially increasing resistance.

Weight Considerations

Some conductors, like copper, can be relatively heavy, which might be a concern in weight-sensitive applications.

Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)

Conductors can act as antennas, leading to electromagnetic interference or susceptibility to external interference.

Read Also:
Top 10 Battery Operated Fan, How to Choose, Its Life
Electrical Resistance – How to Measure, OHM as Function of Temperature
Ratna is a B.E (Computer Science) and has work experience in UK Mainframe IT industry. She is also an active Web Designer. She is an author, editor and core partner at Electricalfundablog.


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