20%! Energy-saving innovation proposed by NU scientists

A team of scientists led by Professor Zinetula Insepov applied an innovative coating to power lines in order to reduce the loss of electricity.  This technology is already used in rockets and reactors, but the team’s application of it for this purpose is novel. Using the coating, resulted in a mitigation of power losses from corona discharges on high-voltage power lines ranging from 20 to 40%.

Today, corona discharge remains one of the main culprits for electricity loss in power lines.  This phenomenon is an electrical discharge associated with ionization of fluid such as air surrounding a conductor.  Corona discharges often happen at the curved region of electrodes and are associated with wet weather.   Corona discharges have been a problem for power lines since the transmission of electricity began, and has not yet been completely resolved.

By applying a hydrophilic porous nanocomposite coating containing carbon nanoparticles to the surface of aluminum wires, we were able to reduce losses from corona discharges by 20 – 40.  A micro-plasma oxidation method, known for its simplicity and easy to manufacture technology, helped us in this, – said the project leader, Professor Zinetula Insepov.

This thin strong alumina film, also known as corundum, has been widely used in rocket, aircraft and reactor engineering, where there is a need for strength.  When applied to the surface of aluminum products, the resulting coat is characterized by high mechanical, high-temperature and radiation strength.

How long was the work on this project?

Work on the project occurred between 2015-2017. Theoretical work began in 2015 exploring various directions.  During the summer of 2017, the main results were obtained at the Siberian Scientific and Research Institute of Energy’s experimental training ground in Novosibirsk, Russia.

The results of our study were published in Russian in the Letters to the Journal of Technical Physics, 2018, and translated into English in the Journal “Technical Physics Letters” in 2018.

The results of electron microscopy studies and additional computer simulations showed that the high anticorona characteristics of the coating were achieved not only due to the electrically high-strength aluminum oxide composite compound with carbon nanoparticles, but also due to the porosity of the nanocomposite coating.  This coating which leads to high wettability of the aluminum wire surface with water, the so-called hydrophilicity when a thin water film further increases the dielectric strength of the coating due to the high dielectric strength of water. This new encouraging result was published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, 2019.

However, this work was not done from scratch. The fact is that a similar high-gradient vacuum breakdown problem exists in giant particle accelerators, for example, the length of the underground accelerator SLAC (Stanford University) in the USA reaches 8 km.

The task of suppressing high-voltage breakdown in accelerators was partially solved by applying a nanometer thickness coating of tungsten on the internal cavity of the accelerator, as a result of which the breakdown electric field threshold increased from 30 MV / m to 100 MV / m. We used an atomic layer deposition to deposit nanometer thick coatings. At present, our innovation is used in new developments of accelerators in the world (in particular, at CERN, the European Research Center) to save money, since the length of the accelerator can be significantly reduced. The results of our study were published in a number of scientific papers during 2004-2017: (List of articles.docx)

The goal of the work at Nazarbayev University was a practical application of the fundamental ideas and results of the work of Professor Insepov, obtained over the period of 15 years, conducted in Japan and the USA, at Argonne National Laboratory and FermiLab (both are in Illinois, USA) and Purdue University (Indiana, USA).

Tell us about the project development team?

Both experienced specialists and young scientists were invited to the development team under my leadership. Our team was made up of 10 people, and essential for the earliest stages of development and backbone of the project were Kurbangali Tynchtykbek, Galiulla Imanbayev, and Ardak Ainabayev. Later they were joined by Nurhat Zhakiyev, who made a contribution to the modeling of the process. It is also worth noting the participation in the project of an outstanding scientist Dr. Jim Norem, creator of the first Tokamak in the United States.  The project was also made possible by collaboration with the Fermilab team led by Professor Alvin Tollestrup (Alvin Tollestrup), the creator of the collider detector at Fermilab and Professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Amazingly, Alvin is 95 years old.  He is in good health and continues his vital work to progress science by leading a team of young scientists at Fermilab, and we are very thankful for their contributions.

Specialists from KEGOC (Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company) and AUEC (Almaty University of Energy and Communications) were involved in the test.

Our partners in the project were KEGOC (the customer of the project) and SibNII Energetics, Novosibirsk.  The work at SibNII Energetics was made possible by employees of the laboratory for industrial tests, who directly conducted pilot tests at the high-voltage landfill, and who were lead by Deputy Director, chief engineer Alexander Gaivoronsky.

What is the practical significance of your discovery?

The practical value of our discovery is to reduce electric losses on existing power transmission lines, the service life of which in most cases exceeds 30-40 years (80% of power lines in Kazakhstan were built back in the Soviet Union) and to establish the release of new electric wires with anticorrosive coating, for example, possible at the Pavlodar cable factory.

Do you have plans and agreements on introducing this technology into production?

Currently, to our knowledge the main producers of this technology for power transmission line coatings is Japan; and the use of them really benefited the country. One possibility in Kazakhstan, would be to develop specialized industrial robots to apply the anti-corona coatings to the country’s existing power lines without dismantling them. Another potential implementation would be to setup manufacturing plants in Kazakhstan with the ability to produce such wires with anti-corona coating. Russian scientists and the Russian government became interested in our development. The results of our work were taken as the basis for the research & development of a new industrial program in Russia intended to create such anti-corona coatings.  Nazarbayev University was invited as a partner to participate in this program. 

The new Russian program was also supported by the Frumkin Institute of Electrochemistry in Moscow, one of the strongest Institutes in the world in the field of electrochemistry. According to the statement of Principal Investigator A.S. Gayvoronsky, representing the Siberian Scientific and Research Institute of Energetics, funding of this new program will be opened by the end of this year. Unfortunately, in Kazakhstan there are no specific plans for introducing this technology into production yet. 

We informed Pavlodar cable plant about our work and submitted our proposal to establish a production line of cables with an anti-corona coating. However, no response so far has been received from them. At the same time, the implementation of this project could bring significant economic benefits when using existing high voltage lines with a life of 20 to 40 years without replacing wires. The simplicity of the technology of applying anti-corona coating will allow its use in many areas of electrical engineering, where it is required to reduce the corona losses of electricity