Innovative transformer cores reduce losses and lower emissions

If you needed proof that innovative science can solve real world problems, look no further than amorphous metal technology.

When a molten metal alloy is rapidly cooled, it has no time to form the crystalline structure common in ordinary metals. The end result is a solid material called amorphous metal, in which atoms are arranged in the dense, randomly packed configuration, typical of liquids.

This property makes amorphous metals very strong and at the same time highly elastic. Scientists have learned how to blow some of these metal alloys into virtually any shape, much the same way plastic objects are molded.  Some say this discovery is as revolutionary as the introduction of synthetic plastics.

So far, amorphous metal applications range from consumer electronics to surgical instruments, watches, even golf clubs and tennis rackets, but perhaps one of the most exciting developments is the amorphous core in electrical transformers.

An amorphous core can significantly reduce electrical losses in transformers, lowering operating costs and reducing environmental impact.  This is significant because of the sheer number of working transformers in the world.

Transformers use a magnetic core to transform voltage and current, and this is where electrical losses can occur.

A study by SEEDT (Strategies for development and diffusion of Energy- Efficient Distribution Transformers) found that in the European Union alone, there are about 4.5 million distribution transformers in use, generating electrical losses in the range of 38 terawatt hours each year – more than the entire amount of electricity consumed by Denmark.  And on top of all that, causing 30 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Growing recognition that transformer losses comprise a significant economic cost is a key driving force behind programs to implement energy efficiency standards for distribution transformers.

AMDT (amorphous metal distribution transformer) core technology, combined with optimized coil designs, can provide significant reductions in “no-load” losses, resulting in higher energy efficiency.

No-load losses are caused by the magnetizing current needed to energize the transformer core, and are influenced by the magnetic properties of the materials used to construct the core, and the core design. They are considered constant regardless of electrical load, causing some input power to be lost as heat.

Amorphous metal provides much lower total losses than even the best grades of Cold-Rolled Grain-Oriented (CRGO) steel, potentially 70-80 percent lower.  This translates directly into lower CO2 emissions from power generation, by reducing generation requirements.

Amorphous metal core transformers have become increasingly cost-competitive compared with conventional core transformers. Technical advances have also resulted in smaller transformers and reduced material costs.

Amorphous cores are a unique alloy of iron, silicon and boron. The absence of a crystalline structure enables easy magnetization, and combined with low thickness and high electrical resistivity help to greatly reduce no-load core losses.

ABB’s amorphous transformer offering is an important new option for customers seeking to shrink energy losses, lower operating costs and reduce environmental impact. The technology has a proven track record in liquid-filled transformers, and is now being applied to dry-type transformers.

Amorphous metal core technology has gained wide acceptance in Europe, North America and Asia as a viable solution, contributing to the ongoing effort of making our electrical grids as efficient as possible.

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About the author

Duncan Crossland

I'm the Marketing & Sales Manager for ABB distribution transformers covering the range of products up to 10MVA and 36kV. I've been with ABB since 2001 and have spent most of this time in sales. From my role, I can see the different dynamics of the global economy, and also how regulations in all the different regions are driving towards more energy efficient products.
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