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Palm oil insulation could transform transformers

14 June 2011 Leicester, University of

Research by a University of Leicester student has identified an environmentally alternative to a major industrial use of oil. Abdelghaffar Abdelmalik has discovered a way to treat palm kernel oil so that it can be used to insulate electrical transformers.

Transformers use petroleum-derived oil as insulation between electrical components but this makes them reliant on fossil fuels and also causes environmental problems if there is a leak.

Abdelghaffar, who is studying for a PhD in the University’s Department of Engineering, is exploring the possibility of using a derivative of palm kernel oil which is environmentally friendly, non-toxic and has suitable properties such as low viscosity and low conductivity. This would extend the life of electrical transformers and greatly reduce the effects of leakage.

Abdelghaffar’s research has already been acknowledged as significant by the Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society, part of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which last year awarded him a $5,000 research grant to support his innovative work.

“The results of the work done so far are encouraging,” said Abdelghaffar. “There are indications that this research may produce a sustainable and all-purpose electrical insulating fluid that would serve as an effective alternative to mineral-based insulating oil.”

Professor John Fothergill, Head of the Department of Engineering, added:

“The currently used silicone oils are recognised as having excellent characteristics but they are environmentally unfriendly.  The new oil that has been synthesised from Palm Kernel Oil is surprisingly good and in many respects appears to be better that the silicone oil.  It is also environmentally friendly.”

This research is being presented at the Festival of Postgraduate Research on Thursday, 16 June.

The annual one-day exhibition of postgraduate research offers organisations and the public the opportunity to meet the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers. More than 50 University of Leicester students will explain the real world implications of their research in an engaging and accessible way. The event is open to the public and free to attend. More information at

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