ARCHIVED - Nano boosts power industry

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August 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

Insulators are the backbone of any high voltage device, including the underground cables that carry electricity to Canadian homes. Two NRC institutes are investigating whether adding nano-sized clay particles to insulating material can lead to higher performance insulators that save money for the power industry.

Power devices such as underground cables, capacitors and transformers all rely on insulators to contain their electric charge. A higher voltage usually means more insulating material, which drives up the size of the device and the cost. "Right now, there is a big demand to use fewer materials and to cut the cost," says Dr. Soli Bamji of the NRC Institute for National Measurement Standards (NRC-INMS).

With superior insulators, capacitors like these could be made smaller and at a reduced cost. (Image courtesy of Mats Findel, ABB Canada)
With superior insulators, capacitors like these could be made smaller and at a reduced cost. (Image courtesy of Mats Findel, ABB Canada)

Researchers at the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) are embedding nano-particles made of organo silicate (a type of clay) into the polymer used to create insulators. Their partners at NRC-INMS will then perform advanced electrical and optical analysis to find out whether the tiny particles boost the polymer's strength and enable it to withstand higher voltages.

The clay nanoparticles are an attractive option because of their unique shape. Each particle is only a few nanometres thick, but the other two dimensions are much larger. "You can think of them as a stack of paper," says Dr. Bamji.

The incredibly thin nanoparticles offer a large surface area for trapping electrical flow within the polymer, even when they make up only 2 percent of the mix. "They produce an equivalent reinforcement to adding 30 to 40 percent glass fibre," says Dr. Leszek Utracki of NRC-IMI.

Right now, the researchers are focusing on insulators — also called dielectrics — for the capacitors used in power transmission and distribution. So far, results are promising. "We've found that they have much better dielectric properties than other materials," says Dr. Bamji.

This project brings together two of NRC's diverse areas of expertise. NRC-IMI has almost 30 years of experience in creating polymers for the automotive and packaging industries, while NRC-INMS is a world leader in creating advanced techniques for studying the properties of insulating materials. "We couldn't do it alone, and they couldn't do it alone, but by combining our expertise, we have a very good chance of producing material with a great advantage for industry," says Dr. Utracki.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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