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IBM and ABB Designing More Efficient Insulator for the Electricity Grid

Large-scale molecular dynamics simulations reveal that for small molecules, short periods of fast motion (right panels) are based on local environmental factors and can be enhanced by using molecular properties.

IBM and ABB have decided to work together to find a better insulator for the electricity grid. They’ll use IBM’s supercomputers and ABB’s expertise at building grids to develop a new kind of high-voltage insulator that would better withstand the action of the elements.

A significant quantity of electricity is being lost in its path from the power station to the end user because of the improper insulation system in use nowadays. Some of the environmental factors that count in are humidity, high winds and pollution.

“It’s like going to the market and buying a full container of milk and then arriving at home to see a glassful has disappeared,” explains Dr. Philip Shemella at IBM Research – Zurich. “Using supercomputers we can simulate at the molecular level how the insulators are damaged by the environment and design them to be more efficient and reliable.”

“Currently, we are running simulations to study how a drop of water affects the reliability of the insulating material. Surprisingly, this is very significant, particularly when it is extrapolated across the entire power grid,” added Shemella.

The project will focus around an older idea that was started about two years ago, when IBM and ABB jointly studied the silicon rubber insulators’ behavior at a molecular scale.

This time, by using an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer and specially designed parallel software, the two companies studied how about one million atoms interacted with the damage caused by environmental factors. Their findings will allow designing an improved silicon rubber recipe that will make energy grids more efficient.


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