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What is the best transformer coolant?


One of the main sources of losses and Siemens Energy has built a power transformer with
One of
Siemens Energy has built a power transformer with insulating liquid based on plant oil for German power supply company
EnBW. EnBW is deploying the transformer with the alternative insulating liquid at the Teinach substation near Bad Teinach-
Zavelstein in the Black Forest in order to investigate and document its operating behavior there under actual service
conditions. The transformer which has a power rating of 40 MVA (107/21 kV) was manufactured in the Dresden transformer

reasons for temperature rise in various parts of a transf ormer are the magnetic circuit and windings. So what are the actually reasons of heating the transf ormer? Responsible for heat generation within the transf ormer are core loss, copper loss in windings (I2R loss), stray loss in windings and stray loss due to leakage/high – that’s the answer.

To avoid overheating, every transf ormer is using some coolant. I’ll try to name only the main ones with following description.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil surrounding a transf ormer core-coil assembly enhances the dielectric strength of the winding and prevents oxidation of the core.

Dielectric improvement occurs because oil has a greater electrical withstand than air and because the dielectric constant of oil (2.2) is closer to that of the insulation. As a result, the stress on the insulation is lessened when oil replaces air in a dielectric system. Oil also picks up heat while it is in contact with the conductors and carries the heat out to the tank surf ace by self convection.

Thus a transf ormer immersed in oil can have smaller electrical clearances and smaller conductors for the same voltage and kVA ratings.

Mineral oils used specif ically for power distribution applications were in commercial production early as 1899. Later, halogenated dielectric fluids-principally askarel fluids noted for their excellent fire saf ety properties- became the fluid of choice for indoor transf ormers.


Beginning about 1932, a class of liquids called askarels or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) was used as a substitute for mineral oil where flammability was a major concern. Askarel-f illed transf ormers could be placed inside or next to a building where only dry types were used previously.

Although these coolants were considered nonf lammable, as used in electrical equipment they could decompose when exposed to electric arcs or fires to form hydrochloric acid and toxic furans and dioxins. The compounds were further undesirable because of their persistence in the environment and their ability to accumulate in higher animals, including humans. Testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection

Agency has shown that PCBs can cause cancer in animals and cause other noncancer health ef fects. Studies in humans provide supportive evidence for potential carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic ef fects of PCBs ( The use of askarels in new transf ormers was outlawed in 1977 (Claiborne, 1999).

Work still continues to retire and properly dispose of transf ormers containing askarels or askarel- contaminated mineral oil. Current ANSI/IEEE standards require transf ormer manuf acturers to state on the nameplate that new equipment lef t the factory with less than 2 ppm PCBs in the oil (IEEE, 2000).

High-Temperature Hydrocarbons

Among the coolants used to take the place of askarels in distribution transf ormers are high-temperature hydrocarbons (HTHC), also called high-molecular-weight hydrocarbons. These coolants are classif ied by the National Electric Code as “less flammable” if they have a fire point above 300˚C.

The disadvantages of HTHCs include increased cost and a diminished cooling capacity from the higher viscosity that accompanies the higher molecular weight.


Another coolant that meets the National Electric Code (NEC) requirements for a less-f lammable liquid is a silicone, chemically known as polydimethylsiloxane. Silicones are only occasionally used because they exhibit biological persistence if spilled and are more expensive than mineral oil or HTHCs.

Halogenated Fluids

Mixtures of tetrachloroethane and mineral oil were tried as an oil substitute for a few years. This and other chlorine-based compounds are no longer used because of a lack of biodegradability, the tendency to produce toxic by-products, and possible ef fects on the Earth’s ozone layer.


Synthetic esters are being used in Europe, where high-temperature capability and biodegradability are most important and their high cost can be justif ied, for example, in traction (railroad) transf ormers.

Transf ormer manuf acturers in the U.S. are now investigating the use of natural esters obtained from vegetable seed oils. It is possible that agricultural esters will provide the best combination of hightemperature properties, stability, biodegradability, and cost as an alternative to mineral oil in distribution transf ormers (Oommen and Claiborne, 1996).

Silicone oils and high-molecular weight hydrocarbons currently rank as the most popular choices in applications requiring less flammable fluid. To a much lesser extent, synthetic ester-based fluids and synthetic hydrocarbons are also used. Synthetic ester dielectric fluids have suitable dieletric properties and biodegrade much quicker than mineral oil and hydrocarbon fluids. Due to their high cost compared to other less flammable fluids, synthetic fluids are generally limited to use in traction and mobile transf ormers, and other specialty applications.

A biodegradable fluid represents signif icant potential savings for utilities because it should simplif y cleanup and remediation plans and procedures. However, the real savings are realized when a transf ormer starts to leak or when there is a spill. This is particularly true for utilities in environmentally sensitive areas that have to worry about threats to marine lif e from spills or leaks form transf ormers located near the water.

Resource: Electric power transformer engineering by Dudley L. Galloway and Dan Mulkey