I'm planning to incarcerate a supervillain who has the ability to attract and control metal. As a minimum, I'd quite like to light his cell but obviously putting even small amounts of metal into his proximity (100+ metres) is extremely dangerous.

Is there a way of creating an electrical lighting circuit that doesn't use any metal whatsoever?

In my head we're using a chemical bath to generate electricity, water-filled glass tubes to conduct the electricity and some kind of non-metallic conductor to create the lighting but I'm wide open to suggestions. Acceptance will be given to a suggestion that is wholly based on real-world examples.


Use Graphite for your wiring. The power source can be metallic, but should be placed several hundred meters away.

Use OLEDs for the lights. While many of these include metallics, it looks to me like you'd be safe if you went with polymer OLEDs.

Of course, when they burn out 5 years down the road you better hope the maintenance crew remembers the correct ones to buy...


No need to invent anything crazy, just use fiber optics. Instead of running tubes of water to conduct electricity, just run bundles of fiber optic cable carrying the light generated from normal electric light bulbs. Using electrical lights means this is an electrical system that meets your requirements.

Such lighting systems currently exist for bringing natural light to interior rooms of buildings.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No cheating :-) $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 27 '15 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Richard how is that "cheating"? $\endgroup$ – Aron Apr 27 '15 at 5:58
  • $\begingroup$ Because it's not an electrical circuit. You might just as well have glass walls and the light-source over 100m away. $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 27 '15 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Richard It requires electric light bulbs, so it most certainly is an electrical circuit. It's different from glass walls and space because you don't need to have over 100m of clear space between the cell and the light source. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Apr 27 '15 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel - It doesn't require electricity at all... $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 27 '15 at 17:40

If your super-hero controls metals thru magnetic fields you cannot use electricity. Any current generates a magnetic field around the conductor.

If your super-hero power comes from another, less ortodox method of controlling metals, then your only choice is semiconductors or ion conduction :

  1. Gross bars of graphite conducting electricity to a bunch of led lamps (the only metal in a led is the conductors that coumple electricity into the semiconductor material, you can replacte it for graphite).
  2. Gross bars of semiconductor materials like silicon, germanium, selenium etc. Those must be doped to increase conductivity.
  3. Ionic transport in water or other solvent. This is quite inneficient. Any salt, acid or base, with high enough dissossiation potential in the liquid will release ions that might be transported across it (Chemistry is not my strength).
  4. Ionic transport in gas. Place a noble gas in a very long tube (longer than the villain can influence metals) with phosphour paint in the inside walls. Like a very large fluorescent lamp. Due to the large distance between the electrodes, the lamp wont turn on with normal, admissible voltages. Pulse a laser powerful enough across a tube filled with noble gas, gas will ionize due to the sheer ammount of power density. The two electrodes now close a circuit composed of gas ions and the rest of copper conductors far away from your villain. This does not make much sense because if you have a laser powerfull enough to ionize gas you already have light, but, this shows another form of electricity conduction.
  • $\begingroup$ What about super-conductivity ? Aren't there non-metallic materials which can be cooled to close 0 Kelvin which to show super-conductivity ? $\endgroup$ – Falco Apr 27 '15 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ We are still to find a material that is superconductor at room temperatures, and using cryogenic superconductors will end up betraying the idea of avoiding metals. $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 28 '15 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ Why will it betray the idea? If I have a superconductive compound and cool it with liquid nitrogen, I can transmit very high voltages without using metals? $\endgroup$ – Falco Apr 28 '15 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but how do you plan to contain the liquid coolant around the superconductor ? $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 28 '15 at 15:50

Why use electricity at all when you can use a Chemiluminescent fluid like that found in glow sticks?

There are a number of different chemical reactions that give off light, you can pump the chemicals in through two plastic (or glass) pipes and mix it wherever you want light.

Since your villain can control magnetic fields, any substance that has a current flowing through it is going to have a magnetic field that he may be able to manipulate -- Even if it's a non-metallic conductor like carbon or a saltwater filled glass tube.

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly what I first thought. $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 27 '15 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ Why not? Er, because it doesn't answer the question? Heck, if I was just concerned with creating light I'd burn something :-) $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 27 '15 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Richard It's quite common here for people to offer other suggestions. This is one of such suggestions. That doesn't mean it doesn't answer the quests, it's just a different way of answering. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Apr 27 '15 at 6:54

Based on the excellent comments above - and a h/t to @JohnD + @NickAlexeev

We have a power source;
Algae-Based, Non-Metallic Batteries

Wiring and connectors;
carbon-fibre wires

And a light source;
carbon-arc lamp (where we could theoretically replace the metal elements with carbon)

Which is pretty much all we need to have a controllable, totally non-metallic, electrically-based lighting circuit

  • $\begingroup$ I'm wide open to better answers. This all seems quite messy and the carbon-arc lamp is theoretical. $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 26 '15 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ There's nothing theoretical about a non-metallic carbon arc lamp. The metal parts in the lamp are only used to hold the carbon electrodes in place and could easily be replaced by ceramics or other non-metallic substance. This, coupled with some graphite wires (about 100 times less conductive than copper, so will have to be 100 times larger) would meet your need for a non-metallic electrical lighting system (though it may still be open to manipulation by your magnetic controlling villain). I don't know why you were downvoted, it's perfectly fine to answer your own question. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Apr 27 '15 at 15:16

You could use the electricity to dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen, transport the gas along a plastic tube to a ceramic nozzle where they burn and heat a carbon sheet to incandescence.

There is nothing sci-fi about this- oxyhydrogen torches have been commercially available for decades and the remainder is no problem (safety aside). See this video, for example.

  • $\begingroup$ Although this answers the question of generating light, it's not an electrical circuit. $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 27 '15 at 0:24


Transmit power wirelessly. RF, microwaves, etc. Google Nikola Tesla for inspiration. This way the fancy non-metallic components can be isolated by distance.

Collect the radiated power with a non-metallic (carbon?) coil.

Convert to light using a plain old Edison-style light bulb with a carbon filament.

For economic reasons, it'd make sense to build the collector coil and light emitter as a single element, installed in a fixed location so your RF bean can be more focused and cost-efficient.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm imagining my supervillain using the "edison style lightbulb" as a weapon against you. Are you planning to remove all the metal bits? $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 27 '15 at 18:46

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