IBM, ABB scientists collaborate to improve transmission science

An improved insulator has the potential to transform the power grid by reducing energy loss and outages caused by material deterioration when exposed to weather

Baden, Switzerland, November 1, 2011 — Scientists at IBM and ABB are using supercomputers to study and potentially develop a new type of high-voltage insulator that will improve the efficiency of transmitting electricity.

An improved insulator has the potential to transform the power grid by reducing energy loss and outages caused by material deterioration when exposed to weather.

Once electricity is generated it is transmitted from the power station to the end user via underground cables or overhead power lines. Up to seven percent of energy loss during transmission can be attributed to the insulation system.

This waste happens for a number of reasons including the quality conditions of the grid as well as by environmental influences such as humidity, high winds and/or pollution.

Started more than two years ago, IBM and ABB scientists in Switzerland formed a joint project to simulate the molecular dynamics of the insulators, which are made of silicon rubber, scientifically known as Polymethylhydrosiloxane or PDMS.

The goal of the project was to better understand the physical processes and potential for improved design methods of high-voltage insulation materials.

Using an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer and massively parallel algorithms, the scientists were able to simulate and study the individual molecules used in the silicon rubber to better understand how it reacts to damage caused by the environment.

With advanced simulations and the computing power available, the scientists were able to simulate realistic models of the material comprising about one million atoms. These simulations will lead to testing new materials in the silicon rubber composition to improve their resiliency to damage.

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