Graphene circuit breaker
Left: A typical low voltage circuit breaker. Right: A spherical copper particle covered by a thin layer of graphene.

Graphene enables a more robust electrical system

​The use of more renewable energy sources in Europe will rely on the smart electric grids, able to distribute and store energy matching production and demand. Circuit breakers are safety-critical components of electric grids, associated with very high and recurring maintenance costs. By adding graphene to the circuit breakers, the electrical system will become more robust and reduce the costs of maintenance drastically.
Low voltage circuit breakers, common in domestic and industrial applications, need grease to function properly. The grease is applied to all circuit breakers during manufacturing. The problem is that the grease stiffens and dries out with age and has a narrow temperature range. This leads to a metal-to-metal wear that must be serviced at high maintenance costs, and to an increased risk of circuit breaker failure. Lack of lubrication is the number one problem that test technicians find when servicing circuit breakers in the field. 

Self-lubrication properties enables maintenance free operation

Graphene is a material with self-lubricating properties; the Swedish company ABB, partner of the Graphene Flagship research program, has recently demonstrated that multifunctional graphene-metal composite coatings could improve the tribological (interactive surfaces in relative motion) performance of metal contacts. ABB will thus lead a new project, starting in April 2020, with the aim to take such graphene-based composites to commercial applications.
The project, named “Circuitbreakers” is one of eleven selected Spearhead projects funded by the Graphene Flagship, Europe’s biggest initiative on graphene research, involving more than 140 universities and industries located in 21 countries. Chalmers University of Technology is the coordinator of the Graphene Flagship.
 

Prototype for industrial use

All spearheads will start in April 2020, building on previous scientific work performed in the Graphene Flagship in last years. The aim of the Circuitbreakers project is to develop a fully functional and tested prototype ready for industrial implementation in just three years. This new generation of circuit breakers will be self-lubricant and have a wider temperature range than existing circuit breaker options. This will enable maintenance-free operation, which will save business huge costs and reduce the risk on any undesired outage of the electrical system due to circuit breaker failure.

Extensive experience of graphene- and graphene-based composites

Vincezo PalermoProf. Vincenzo Palermo and Dr. Jinhua Sun from the Department of Industrial and Materials Science, Chalmers University of Technology will support ABB in the spearhead project providing new solutions to process graphene in coatings, to fabricate graphene-enhanced circuit breaker prototypes for practical application in the industrial scale. The research group has more than ten years of research experience in graphene and graphene-based composites. Their knowledge on characterization and processing of graphene-based materials will help industrial partners to select the appropriate graphene raw materials.

Jinhua SunProf. Palermo and Dr. Sun will help work on developing new chemical procedures and industrial applicable processing methods to coat graphene on the major component of circuit breakers. In addition, the advanced characterization techniques available at Chalmers Materials Analysis Laboratory (CMAL) will be important to evaluate the added value of graphene on the performance of circuit breaker.

More information: 

About the Graphene Flagship


Partners

The Circuitbreakers Spearhead project is a multidisciplinary project that consists of both academic and industrial partners. The industrial partners are ABB (Sweden), Nanesa (Italy) and Graphmatech AB (Sweden).
 

Funding

The Graphene Flagship is one of the largest research projects funded by the European Commission. With a budget of €1 billion over 10 years, it represents a new form of joint, coordinated research, forming Europe's biggest ever research initiative. The Flagship is tasked with bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from academic laboratories into European society, thus generating economic growth, new jobs and new opportunities.

Chalmers University of Technology as a core partner will receive 481,000 Euro to work in the Circuitbreakers Spearhead project, which will formally start from April 2020 with a total period of 3 years.

Published: Mon 31 Aug 2020.