Self-repairing polymers

Louise Davis

UK self-healing cable repair project could save millions

Electricity operators Northern Powergrid and UK Power Networks are collaborating on a ground-breaking, environmentally-friendly new technology that could result in millions of pounds of savings each year.

Working with science and technology innovation company Gnosys Global, the electricity networks are exploring the use of self-repairing polymers and resins to minimise leakage from damaged fluid filled cables.

This Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) funded project was developed by the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC) after the DNOs highlighted the need to find a way to minimise leakage to lower repair costs and reduce the amount of fluid that flows into the ground.

All major UK electricity operators operate a relatively small amount of fluid filled cable circuits on their distribution networks that over time, can be damaged and result in leaks.

As set out by the energy industry regulator Ofgem, cables must be maintained, repaired and replaced in the most environmentally friendly and cost effective way to minimise the impact on energy bills.

A reactive additive

Explaining how the ‘self-repair’ technology works, Professor Gary Stevens from Gnosys says: “Fluids are used to cool and insulate some types of electricity cables and if small holes or cracks appear in the cable sheath or joints that’s when leaks can occur. We have developed an additive that can be included in the fluid which when it comes in to contact with the air, will react and essentially plug the gap and also contain the fluid should a more major leak occur. This would then extend the life of older cables and provide improved environmental performance.”

The first phase of the project, which involved laboratory testing to demonstrate the suitability of the chemical technology has successfully been completed. Further cable and circuit testing is now required to trial the fluid for use in power networks.

Jim Cardwell, head of Trading and Innovation at Northern Powergrid, says: “A cable with self-repairing properties has the potential to transform the way we treat and respond to cable damage and we’re pleased to be collaborating with industry and an innovative company to trial a new solution that could make a big difference for our customers and local communities.

“In most cases, underground cables across the network are in difficult to reach locations so a substance that could instantly react to any leaks would allow the network to continue to operate without the need for an excavation to repair it.”

Ian Cooper, senior technology transfer engineer at UK Power Networks, comments: “Cable damage is a problem that all electricity networks face and it makes sense for us to collaborate with other networks to look for a solution.

“Working with the Energy Innovation Centre to present our business challenge to the SME community enabled us to discover Gnosys. The EIC is an invaluable resource and without it, we would have had to spend significantly more time and resources to get the project to where it is today.”

The EIC helped Gnosys to put together the initial project proposals and managed the arrangements with Northern Powergrid and UK Power Networks.

Matthieu Michel, head of Innovation Delivery at the EIC, says: “This project demonstrates how engaging with SMEs can help the energy networks work smarter to discover solutions to their business challenges. Through open communication and collaboration, the networks can develop innovative projects such as this, allowing them to tackle a problem which is faced by DNOs across the UK.”

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