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IBM, ABB study enhancement to grid material

Posted: 03 Nov 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:electricity grids  supercomputers  energy loss 

IBM and ABB scientists have collaborated on using supercomputers to enable reduction of energy loss in power grids.

The study involves the development of a new type of high-voltage insulator that has the ability to transform the power grid by reducing energy loss and outages caused by material deterioration when exposed to weather thereby improving the efficiency of transmitting electricity.

Once electricity is generated it is transmitted from the power station to the end user via underground cables or overhead power lines. Up to seven per cent of energy loss during transmission can be attributed to the insulation system. This waste happens for a number of reasons including the quality conditions of the grid as well as by environmental influences such as humidity, high winds and/or pollution.

"It's like going to the market and buying a full container of milk and then arriving at home to see a glassful has disappeared," explains Philip Shemella at IBM Research—Zurich. "Using supercomputers we can simulate at the molecular level how the insulators are damaged by the environment and design them to be more efficient and reliable."

Started more than two years ago, IBM and ABB scientists in Switzerland formed a joint project to simulate the molecular dynamics of the insulators, which are made of silicon rubber, scientifically known as Polymethylhydrosiloxane or PDMS. The goal of the project was to better understand the physical processes and potential for improved design methods of high-voltage insulation materials.

"IBM brings its extensive expertise in complex computer simulation and we bring over 125 years of experience with electricity," said Oliver Fritz, ABB researcher, based in Baden-Dattwil, Switzerland. Using an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer and massively parallel algorithms, the scientists were able to simulate and study the individual molecules used in the silicon rubber to better understand how it reacts to damage caused by the environment. With advanced simulations and the computing power available, the scientists were able to simulate realistic models of the material comprising approximately one million atoms. These simulations will lead to testing new materials in the silicon rubber composition to improve their resiliency to damage.

"Currently, we are running simulations to study how a drop of water affects the reliability of the insulating material. Surprisingly, this is very significant, particularly when it is extrapolated across the entire power grid," adds Shemella.

The initial findings were published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B, as "Molecular Motion of Amorphous Silicone Polymers." The research was conducted by Philip Shemella, Teodoro Laino and Alessandro Curioni from IBM Research—Zurich and Oliver Fritz, ABB Corporate Research—Baden-Dattwil.

- Julien Happich
  EE Times

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