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18 November 2021

Cable start-up lands $25 million for double strength, carbon cable

TS Conductor has picked up $25 million this week to bring online a new transmission cabling factory, which promises to get more out of most grids.

The money was ponied up by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, National Grid Partners and a NextEra Energy subsidiary and harks back to work that Jason Huang, director at TS Conductor, did during his PhD. The cable offers between 30% and 50% less resistance, dramatically reducing line loss.

The new cabling is effectively annealed aluminum – heated up to change its structure and create a structure that conducts electricity better – but in order to use this, a carbon composite core that is harder than steel is used – it is lighter and prevents stretching. The patented approach also enables existing work forces to treat the cable just as it would any other cable, using the same tools and methods of securing it in place.

Potentially we may see more and more announcements of this type, as a variety of players seek to get more conductivity, and less energy losses, and suffer less sag in heavy ice and cabling that can work over longer spans.

The new capital will be used to build the company’s first manufacturing plant in the United States. TS Conductor has been trialed in a new distribution circuit in 2016, and also successfully deployed into a 10 KV reconductoring application.

The company promised this would make it easier to attached renewables to the grid, and suggests using it for line reconductoring. This typically doubles the capacity of a line, and can usually be installed while the transmission is live. It doesn’t represent an increased weight on the structures holding it up and the line becomes more efficient and reduces line losses by half. The system can also be used to make existing lines better insulated so that they don’t create forest fires. But fundamentally the lower weight and lower sag means cutting costs on new transmission lines.

The company claims this is the first step forward in materials science to affect transmission lines since the 1970s when aluminum lines changed from being steel reinforced to being fully supported by steel. But even today 90% of all cables use ACSR Conductor (Aluminum Conductor Steel Reinforced) and system around since the beginning of the last century.

The aluminum encapsulation of the carbon also eliminates sharp edge bending from mishandling and provides protection against crushing the carbon core during conventional crimping when fitting – so effectively it can be treated like  the older materials.

In previous attempts to revolutionize this market a form of unidirectional composite was used, but this is vulnerable to bending breakage. This new system provides protection against bending failure by preserving tension in the carbon core.

The strength and low weight of the carbon composite allows for use of the most conductive, fully annealed aluminum, delivering higher ampacity, best efficiency and high temperature stability.

TS Conductor claims the global wires and cables market was $183 billion in 2020, growing at 4% per annum.

Over the years, aluminum alloys of higher strength and higher temperature endurance were developed for conductor applications but at the expense of electrical conductivity. The most conductive aluminum with the highest temperature capability is annealed aluminum. However, it must be complemented with higher strength core materials.

The carbon epoxy composite used is a mature, advanced composite material system, proven in aerospace applications for over 50 years. It has a rare and unique combination of all the most desirable properties for conductor application, light weight (20% of steel), high strength (2X of steel) and virtually no thermal expansion.