USC and CTC Collaborate on Lightweight Composite Core for Power Lines

28 August 2003

The M.C. Gill Composites Center at the University of Southern California has reached an agreement with Composite Technology Corporation (CTC) of Irvine, Calif., to collaborate on the analysis and production of a series of composite core power lines.

The lightweight Aluminum Conductor Composite Core (ACCC) cable that CTC is commercializing will allow transmission of up to twice the amount of electric power as conventional power lines.

""Electrical power production has been growing faster than the capacity of the power grid, and deregulation is adding to the problem because we're sending power across greater distances,"" said Steven Nutt, director of the Gill Composites Center and a professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at USC. ""We need to upgrade the power grid. Today's steel-reinforced cables have changed very little in the past hundred years.""

The ACCC cables were initially created by CTC. They consist of a lightweight core of carbon- and glass-fiber composite surrounded by aluminum wires through which the power flows. Conventional power lines are made of aluminum wires wrapped around a core of steel strands.

Steel has provided the strength to support power lines, but it is a relatively poor conductor of electricity. The ACCC cable cores are lighter and stronger than steel ones and they can transmit as much as twice the amount of electricity because more aluminum can be used and they can operate safely at higher temperatures. They are no larger in diameter, an important consideration because of the pressure placed on power lines from wind, rain and ice. They also can be handled and transported much like conventional cables, said Nutt.

""We are designing the cables specifically to make it easy to replace existing steel cable and increase the amount of power transmitted in a system,"" said C. William Arrington, president and COO of CTC. ""When you have to deploy new towers, it is costly and time-consuming and can have a significant environmental impact.""

The fiber composite in the ACCC cables is made by pultrusion, a continuous process where carbon fibers are impregnated with resin. The USC Gill Composites Center will analyze and test prototype composite cores pultruded by CTC in order to ensure that the ACCC cables conform to appropriate industry standards.

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