Project Goal Is More Efficient, Reliable Energy Transmission

Compiled By Jill Jusko A new conductor being tested at Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory (ORNL) could one day help meet this country's growing energy demands. Researchers from 3M Co., St. Paul, and ORNL say extensive testing is still ahead for a "promising" replacement conductor for conventional power lines. The composite core conductor addresses the problem of power outages caused by sagging lines, which droop under the heat of heavy loads of current. The new design relies on 3M Nextel 650 ceramic fibers embedded in an aluminum matrix to make a composite wire more resistant to stretching when heated. It is enhanced by zirconium to make the aluminum more resistant to deformation at high temperatures. Cable manufacturer Nexan, Paris, and Wire Rope Industries also are involved in the manufacture of the conductor. "The new conductor's ability to handle greater temperatures will allow more current to be transmitted," says John Stovall, technical leader in ORNL's Engineering Science and Technology Division. Testing of the conductor and line accessories are slated to run from five to six months. "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 says. "It also could provide one possible answer to the growing energy demand and transmission bottlenecks."

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