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Facilitating the Transport of Green Power Along Power Grids

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Zepu Wang, who recently received his Ph.D. in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has developed a new advanced material to coat electrical components and allow the transmission of higher voltages across national power infrastructures. This new nanocomposite material holds the promise of enabling smarter, more reliable, and greener power systems. The technology could also significantly reduce the frequency of power outages.

Global energy demand is on the rise, as populations continue to grow and industrialization progresses. At the same time, there is a growing awareness and concern about repercussions of increasing rates of carbon dioxide emissions released in the atmosphere. This is prompting attention and investment in sustainable energy sources including wind, solar, and hydro.

One key practical challenge, however, is that the best geographic areas for generating green power are often far removed from the highly populated and industrial areas where the power is most needed. This means transporting renewable power is just as important as how it is generated.

High-voltage direct current (HVDC) power systems can efficiently transmit large amounts of power over land and sea. Using HVDC technology, larger and larger voltages are required the further the power is transported. Today’s HVDC systems generally transmit at below 800-kilovolts, but higher-voltage—and thus longer-distance—systems are in development around the world. A critical part of these next-generation systems are new insulation materials capable of handling large voltages.

Within HVDC systems, particular areas including bushings, cable termination, and joints are often weak points prone to electrical failure. Field grading materials are used to reduce the stress on these weak points. Wang has developed a new field grading material that offers several advantages to those commonly used today. His patent-pending material is a composite of polymers and graphene, the thinnest material known to science. Wang’s device requires less costly nanomaterials, exhibits significantly better field grading effects, and has shown to be more durable and less susceptible to overheating than commercial devices.

Wang’s innovation could lead to entirely new designs for systems that carry more sustainably generated power over longer distances with minimal energy loss. He has been working with Swiss firm ABB to further test and develop his technology.

Zang's faculty advisers at Rensselaer were Linda Schadler, professor of materials science and engineering and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Engineering, and Keith Nelson, professor emeritus.

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