Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Fred Strohl (strohlhf@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


New electric test facility dedicated

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 27, 2003 — A facility to test a conductor that may lead to the more efficient and reliable transmission of electricity is in operation at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The National Transmission Technology Research Center is a joint effort of ORNL, TVA and the 3M Company. The three have been teaming on a promising replacement conductor for conventional power lines that will be tested at the facility.

The center will enable researchers to address the problem of power outages caused by sagging lines, which are caused by the heat of high current loads. Use of replacement conductors also would help avoid the high cost and environmentally harmful effects of building new towers.

Participating in the facility dedication March 25 were U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp; TVA Board Chairman Glenn McCullough; James Glotfelty, senior policy advisor to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham; Joaquin Delagado, executive director of research and development at 3M; Gerald Boyd, manager of DOE's Oak Ridge Operations and ORNL Director Bill Madia.

"3M's new composite-core conductor can increase the current-carrying capacity of a transmission line at minimal cost and environmental impact," said John Stovall, technical leader in ORNL's Engineering Science and Technology Division. "Its advantage is using existing structures to increase transmission capacity without the cost of a new transmission line."

The design uses 3M Nextel 650 ceramic fibers, embedded in an aluminum matrix, to make a composite wire that does not stretch as much when heated. An enhancement to the new cables is the addition of zirconium, which makes the aluminum more resistant to deformation at higher temperatures. The aluminum matrix also helps prevent rust in the cable. 3M is working with Nexans and Wire Rope Industries to manufacture the conductor.

"The new conductor's ability to handle greater temperatures will allow more current to be transmitted," Stovall said.

ORNL researchers will test 3M's small, medium and large diameter conductor cables successively in a field experiment at ORNL. The tests will evaluate the overall performance of the conductors to verify predictions of computer models by looking at sag and tension data, such as stress/strain curve and breaking point, and by testing various conductor accessories that attach the conductor to the towers.

The 3M conductor and line accessories by Alcoa Fujikora and Preformed Line Products are being tested for thermocycling, or high current situations, at ORNL. In Fargo, N.D., the conductor and its accessories are being tested for resistance in high winds and ice on a transmission line owned by Western Area Power Administration, while corrosion tests are being performed by Hawaii Electric Co. ORNL is monitoring the performance of the conductor at the Fargo site as well as other future utility sites.

The National Electric Energy Testing, Research and Applications Center in Atlanta is testing all of the components. Each test will run from five to six months. The researchers hope to put each conductor through 500 cycles of simulated thermocycling, taking it to peak load and then returning it to normal load the equivalent of 30 years of peak loads.

The Power Line Conductor Accelerated Testing, or PCAT facility, will be a closed loop of approximately 2,400 feet of composite core conductor. A tw0megawatt direct current power supply fed by a transformer will provide current for the site. The Tennessee Valley Authority is helping to design the line structure at PCAT and install poles, hardware and other accessories at the test site.

"If the tests show that the new conductor performs well, it could mean that electric utilities will take greater interest in replacing their lines with new cables," Stovall said. "It also could provide one possible answer to the growing energy demand and transmission bottlenecks."

ORNL is a Department of Energy multiprogram research facility managed by UT-Battelle.