Engineers create fire-resistant material to prevent power pole fires

Credit: RMIT University.

In a groundbreaking development, engineers in Australia have created a new material that makes power-pole insulators resistant to fire and electrical sparking.

This innovation could significantly reduce the risk of pole-top fires and the resulting power outages that affect thousands of homes and businesses.

Pole-top fires are a major concern for power providers and communities worldwide, as seen during the incidents in Perth where 40,000 homes and businesses lost power due to such fires.

The Black Summer fires also highlighted the vulnerability of power systems, with 280,000 customers experiencing blackouts due to issues related to power pole insulators and poles.

Dr. Tariq Nazir, a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at RMIT University, explained that these fires typically occur under a combination of weather conditions.

“Following hot, dry, and windy days, if there is a shift to damp and misty conditions, dust and pollution that have accumulated on power-line insulators can allow electricity to spark.

This can heat up metal fixtures on the poles, causing wooden power poles to catch fire,” he said.

To combat this problem, Dr. Nazir, in collaboration with researchers from the University of New South Wales, has developed a silicone rubber composite material designed to enhance the fire resistance and safety of insulation materials used on power poles.

Their findings are detailed in the journal Advanced Composites and Hybrid Materials.

This new material incorporates additives such as chopped fiberglass, aluminum hydroxide, and a type of clay derived from volcanic ash, which together improve the material’s resistance to environmental factors like moisture, pollution, and fire.

It can be used as a coating or paint for existing ceramic and glass insulators, providing an additional layer of protection.

Dr. Nazir highlighted the dual focus of their research, stating, “While others have worked mainly on improving materials’ resistance to electrical discharges, we aim to enhance both flame retardancy and electrical insulation.”

The team is now looking to collaborate with fire-retardant coating manufacturers, electrical utilities, and other relevant stakeholders to further develop and test this material.

They plan to move towards larger-scale production and conduct extensive durability testing under simulated outdoor conditions. These tests will help assess the material’s suitability for various scenarios and its integration with existing power systems.

Additionally, Dr. Nazir and his colleagues have previously developed a fire-retardant paint in collaboration with Flame Security International, which is already available commercially in Australia.

This new development not only promises to improve the reliability of power supply by preventing fires but also aims to reduce the maintenance costs and resources for power companies, ultimately benefiting everyone from utility providers to everyday consumers.

Source: RMIT University.