Palm kernel oil could be used to insulate transformers

Specially adapted palm kernel oil could be used to insulate electrical transformers, thereby proving a more environmentally sound alternative to current silicone-based oils.

Noting that transformers account for a major proportion of industrial oil use worldwide, graduate student Abdelghaffar Abdelmalik from Leicester University’s engineering department looked for sustainable alternatives.

Transformers use petroleum-derived oil as insulation between electrical components, but this makes them reliant on fossil fuels and also causes environmental problems if there is a leak.

Abdelmalik assessed the feasibility of using a derivative of palm kernel oil, which is environmentally friendly and non-toxic and has suitable properties such as low viscosity and low conductivity. This would extend the life of electrical transformers and greatly reduce the effects of leakage.

‘The results of the work done so far are encouraging,’ said Abdelmalik. ‘There are indications that this research may produce a sustainable and all-purpose electrical insulating fluid that would serve as an effective alternative to mineral-based insulating oil.’

The research has attracted a small grant from the Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society, part of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Prof John Fothergill, head of the Department of Engineering at Leicester, said: ‘The currently used silicone oils are recognised as having excellent characteristics but they are environmentally unfriendly. The new oil that has been synthesised from palm kernel oil is surprisingly good and in many respects appears to be better that the silicone oil.’

The project is being presented at Leicester’s Festival of Postgraduate Research, a one-day exhibition where more than 50 students will explain the real-world implications of their work.