Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


DOE's ORNL part of initiative for superconducting transformer

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 31, 1998 — A Superconductivity Partnership Initiative to be signed Tuesday by the Department of Energy (DOE) and Waukesha Electric Systems is a mega boost toward next-generation transformers that are vastly more efficient, reliable and compact.

The goal of the three-year $6 million cooperative agreement is to design, build and test a prototype transformer rated at 5 mega-volt-ampere with a 10-mega-volt-ampere overload -- or emergency -- capability. One megawatt will light 10,000 100-watt light bulbs. The initiative pools the resources of the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Intermagnetics General, and Rochester Gas and Electric with those of transformer manufacturer Waukesha.

The 5/10-mega-volt-ampere superconducting transformer will be a scaled-down version of the final product, a 30-mega-volt-ampere commercial unit that will weigh half that of a conventional transformer. Furthermore, the superconducting transformer will not contain the thousands of gallons of cooling and insulating oil, a potential fire and environmental hazard. Superconducting transformers could be in wide use in about 20 years. The goal of this Energy Department project is to fund cutting-edge research on difficult but important engineering problems.

ORNL, which will receive about $600,000 for its portion of the project, is the only national laboratory involved in the initiative.

"ORNL is pleased to be partnered with a leading U.S.-based power transformer manufacturer," said Bob Hawsey, manager of ORNL's Superconductivity Program for Electric Power. "Recent advances in high-temperature superconducting wire development paired with continued growth in demand for electricity worldwide, especially in Asia, suggest that the time is right for a superior next-generation power transformer.

"In the new era of electric utility restructuring, Waukesha's transformer will add another option to enhance competitiveness at home and abroad."

The new transformers are revolutionary in that they will use high-temperature superconducting materials instead of copper windings and will use a relatively small refrigeration system, which replaces the very large heat exchangers of the conventional oil-filled power transformer. A 30-mega-volt-ampere superconducting transformer will use about 200 pounds of superconducting material, which has no electrical resistance. That means it will run cooler and dramatically reduce electrical losses.

Because of its advanced design, a superconducting transformer will be able to deliver twice its rated power with no sacrifice in lifespan. Its smaller size and lower weight mean the superconducting transformer will result in reduced transformer cost per unit of power delivered and more power per square foot in existing limited-space substations.

A 30-mega-volt-ampere conventional transformer uses thousands of pounds of copper wire and weighs about 48 tons. Transmission losses account for up to 7 percent of electricity generated by power plants, according to Christine Platt, DOE Superconductivity Partnership Initiative program manager. Superconducting equipment has the potential to cut that loss by half and save up to $6.5 billion for the United States consumer. It could also reduce pollution and demand for imported oil.

Tuesday's event also represents the first public showing of the world's largest high-temperature superconductor transformer.

ORNL has several science and engineering roles that will call upon resources in the Fusion Energy, Life Sciences and Energy divisions. Tasks include helping to develop high-voltage bushings that operate at cryogenic temperatures and conducting studies on electrical insulation materials, geometries and sub-scale testing to verify the transformer design.

The 5/10-mega-volt-ampere superconducting transformer is to be demonstrated in Waukesha, where earlier this year Waukesha Electric Systems, ORNL and others successfully demonstrated a 1-mega-volt-ampere high-temperature superconducting transformer.

Funding for the project in the amount of $2.95 million is being provided by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy.

ORNL, one of the Energy Department's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation. Waukesha Electric Systems is one of the nation's foremost producers of electric power transformers, modular substations and surge arresters serving electrical utilities and industrial firms. Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation is a public utility in upstate New York. Intermagnetics General Corporation of Latham, N.Y., is a leading developer and manufacturer of low- and high-temperature superconducting magnets, wire and cable and associated low-temperature refrigeration equipment.