Sustainable Power Cable Materials Technologies with Improved Whole Life Performance

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Electronics and Computer Science


Current extruded polymeric cable materials technologies are based on crosslinked polyethylene and, consequently, suffer from two major problems. Polyethylene melts at a relatively low temperature (~90 to 110C) and therefore crosslinking is employed to give improved thermomechanical stability. However, this only results in a safe maximum working temperature of ~95C, whilst rendering the material extremely difficult to recycle at the end of the cable's life. These factors limit cable circuit performance and create problems once the asset has reached the end of it's useful life. Addressing these problems is particularly timely due to the growing medium voltage (MV) and high voltage (HV) power utility markets in the UK and worldwide. This demand is driven by the imperitive to replace existing aged HVAC systems, to provide new power system connections to renewable generation sources in the developed world (particularly HVDC) and for infrastructure development in developing countries. In HV systems there is also a need to operate cables at higher peak loads within a flexiable AC transmission system (FACTS) framework.This proposal will remove current performance and recyclability limitations by developing a new generation of low-loss recyclable materials with high-temperature operational capabilities, evaluating their performance in cable designs and by developing and applying a whole-life assessment tool to quantify the operational/economic/environmental/sustainability benefits. The result will be improved network performance through a technology that is fundamentally recyclable as well as creating new materials that have global market development potential. The problem will be addressed by a consortium that includes a major polymer supplier, a major utility company, a University partner and a SME research provider. The project will be coordinated by National Grid with technical project management support supplied by Gnosys. Materials development will be jointly undertaken by Southampton University, GnoSys and Dow. Dow will supply materials and model cables and Southampton will undertake electrical/physical testing of them. Gnosys will provide additional materials support and the whole life assesment tool and, with National Grid, apply it to cable case studies. The following methodology will be adopted, in order to meet the project objectives. Programme 1A. A detailed review of alternative materials technologies will be initially undertaken to define best candidate materials for new high performance polymeric HV and MV cable insulation systems. Programme 1B. From the results of Phase 1, thermoplastic polymer blends with high electric strength, high thermal stabilty and good flexibility will be developed to enable the cable insulation to operate continuously at limits of 140 to 150C; that is, 50 to 60C higher than present insulation systems.Programme 1C. Ease of extrusion during manufacture and ease of reprocessing at end of life to facilitate recycling are essential requirements. Model cables will then be fabricated and assessed with respect to thermo-mechanical stability, cable flexibility, dielectric loss, enhanced electrical breakdown and voltage endurance behaviour, and ease of processing. Programme 2A. A whole life performance-economic-environmental cable model will be constructed using the newly developed LEETS methodology and software tool, appropriately modified to determine the overall sustainability performance and the benefits of the new generation materials benchmarked against existing materials. The model will explore optimum solutions for several cable designs taking into account network operational needs.Programme 2B. The selected candidate materials will then be subjected to whole-life operational, economic and environmental assessment within MV and HV cable designs informed by new cable rating and system studies linked to the LEETS tool.


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Description The major advances made as a result of this research are:
(i) The necessary morphologies required for enhanced macroscopic material performance can be generated through industrially-viable non-isothermal means.
(ii) It is possible to manufacture cables using thermoplastic polymer blends.
(iii) These cables exhibit electrical breakdown performance that is dramatically improved compared with existing technologies based upon XLPE.
Exploitation Route An international consortium of cable manufacturers and utilities has been assembled and the follow on project (SUSCABLE II) has begun using 100% industrial funding.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description This project demonstrated the viability of using thermoplastic polymer blends as insulation systems for high voltage cables. The concept was picked up by a number of major industrial players with a view to commercialization.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description ABB HVDC Project 
Organisation ABB Group
Country Switzerland 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The development of new HVDC insulation systems based upon thermoplastics.
Collaborator Contribution We led the materials design work.
Impact One patent application has been submitted: A new process for preparing insulation materials for high voltage power applications and new insulation materials (WO 2014206437 A1)
Start Year 2011
Description SGCC HVDC Project 
Organisation State Grid Corporation of China
Country China 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Materials development to facilitate the production of an HVDC cable
Collaborator Contribution Manufacture of the cable
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2015
Title Process for producing polypropylene blends for thermoplastic insulation 
Description This patent describes a process for producing a novel thermoplastic high voltage cable insulation system that offers considerable benefits compared with traditional systems. 
IP Reference WO2013148028 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2013
Licensed No
Impact The work has resulted in follow on industrial funding aiming at bring the technology to market.
Description This patent describes a process for producing high performance high voltage cable insulation based upon blends of different polyethylene grades. 
IP Reference WO2012044523 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2012
Licensed No
Impact The work has led to follow on funding from industry, with a view to bringing it to market.
Description Integrated Development and Assessment of New Thermoplastic High Voltage Power Cable Systems 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The presentation generated a great deal of interest from the industry sector (i.e. cable makers) and potential end users (i.e. energy utilities).

The talk generated lots of questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012