Buckyballs set to enable a 26% increase in insulation breakdown voltage

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have discovered that the plastic insulation used in high voltage cables can withstand a voltage 26% higher if nanometre sized carbon balls are added. This, says the team, could result in enormous efficiency gains in the power grids of the future.

"Reducing energy losses during electric power transmission is one of the most important factors for the energy systems of the future," says Chalmers researcher Christian Müller. "The other two are development of renewable energy sources and technologies for energy storage." He suggests wind turbines and solar energy farms could be amongst the potential applications.

The researchers have shown that variants of the C60 carbon 'buckyball' provide strong protection against breakdown of the plastic insulation used in high voltage cables. Today, the team says, voltage has to be limited to prevent the insulation layer from getting damaged.

"Being able to increase the voltage to this extent would result in enormous efficiency gains in power transmission," said Müller. "A major issue in the industry is how transmission efficiency can be improved without making the power cables thicker, since they are already very heavy and difficult to handle."

The next step will involve testing the method in complete AC and DC high voltage cables.

The buckyball, pictured below, consists of 60 carbon atoms and resembles a nanometre sized football. C60 – named buckyballs in memory of Buckminster Fuller –are part of the fullerence family, discovered in 1985. Whilst they have been regarded as promising material for several applications, there have been few industrial uses.

Graham Pitcher

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