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RSS feed source: National Science Foundation

In a significant step towards resilient, sustainable energy, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) are undertaking a groundbreaking initiative to enhance the performance and longevity of grid transformers, a critical component of the electric grid.

Failures in transformers cause widespread disruptions across electrical networks, severely affecting grid stability. The financial impact of such failures often goes beyond just the cost of replacing the transformer. Cleanup efforts, repairs and grid-wise equipment replacements can become necessary, and additional losses related to productivity can hinder economies.

Central to transformer longevity is the integrity of electrical insulation materials, which currently consist of kraft paper-like materials. While such materials are excellent electrical insulators, they are also very good thermal insulators. This is undesirable since they trap heat, causing overheating — a leading cause of transformer failure. To address these challenges, UT Austin researchers are exploring high thermal conductivity papers to enhance heat dissipation and thereby extend transformer life.

Credit: Image courtesy of Vaibhav Bahadur, UT Austin

Predicting hot spots inside a transformer. Internals of transformers can get as hot as boiling water (100 °C).

“We are exploring high thermal conductivity paper by doping conventional cellulosic paper with nanoparticles of boron nitride, which boasts much higher thermal conductivity than paper,” explained Vaibhav Bahadur, principal investigator in

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