In January, WJI presented the 10 Stage 1 winners in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Conductivity-enhanced materials for Affordable, Breakthrough Leapfrog Electric applications (CABLE) conductor manufacturing initiative. Below, Francisco Flores, senior materials engineer, NanoAL, LLC, discusses the focus of his team’s winning entry. For more about the company, go to www.nanoalllc.com.
WJI: How did your team form?
Flores: NanoAL is a materials research and technology company that designs, develops, and commercializes high-performance aluminum alloys. The company was founded by two Northwestern University professors and a post-doc in 2013 after 17 years of research on advanced aluminum alloys.
WJI: What is your contest focus?
Flores: Our contest focus is designing and developing a new conductive aluminum alloy with specific strength equal to that of high-strength steel. This advanced aluminum alloy would potentially be a direct substitution for the typical high-strength steel used in applications carrying heavy loads. In the case of traditional steel-reinforced conductors for power transmission, this substitution would significantly boost the overall conductivity of the power lines.
WJI: How did the collaboration with the Prysmian Group help?
Flores: Through its subsidiary company, General Cable, Prysmian Group has been one of our long-term R&D partners. NanoAL and Prysmian Group have jointly developed multiple advanced aluminum alloys and conductors for overhead cable, automotive and industrial applications. The people we have worked with from Prysmian understand both the science and the applications, and have been a champion of research and innovation in the wire and cable industry. They have helped us define customer and application requirements for a new product, evaluate performances of lab-scale and prototype samples, and implement scale-up processes.
WJI: Where do you see your CNTs most benefiting wire and cable?
Flores: We see this technology playing an essential role in improving the efficiency of electrical energy transmission and distribution systems. Our ultra-high-strength, highly conductive aluminum alloy achieves a tensile strength of 500 MPa and electrical conductivity of approximately 48% of standard annealed copper. Its specific strength is higher than the traditional steel core, while its conductivity is nearly eight times greater than steel. The potential aluminum/steel substitution in a transmission cable’s core can significantly increase the conductor’s efficiency. As a result, it saves money and reduces carbon footprint by reducing energy loss from the power grids.
WJI: Can your process be commercialized on a large scale?
Flores: Our aluminum alloys and processes are highly scalable. However, since replacing steel with a high-strength aluminum alloy in a traditionally steel-enforced conductor is highly disruptive, we need to achieve several more product development and application milestones to achieve commercial success. This is why the CABLE competition is such a good opportunity for us to advance and mature this technology further toward commercialization.
Prysmian Group perspective
Aluminum is ideal for electricity transmission/distribution, but its inherent low emissivity retains heat, leading to energy losses and conductor sag. The U.S. has more than 450,000 miles of active overhead transmission lines, most over 50 years old. The Prysmian Group supports innovative materials to enhance transmission efficiency. NanoAL’s development through the CABLE prize has the potential to create a sustainable and high-performance solution for energy products. Dr. Sathish Ranganathan, North America R&D Director, Prysmian Group.