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Focused efficiency at 0.18 millimeters

Half the electricity used by Denmark in a year - That’s how much power Europe’s transformers alone have to save by 2020, a job that calls for highly efficient electrical steel.

The setting is a movie theater by the Danube River in Vienna. Attendees at the conference center put on their 3D glasses excitedly, because what they are about to see is not just ­another Hollywood blockbuster or animated film with three-dimensional effects. Instead, they behold a vision: the networked energy city of the future.

A three-dimensional transformer is assembled step by step before their eyes in the conference center. It is the heart of the energy city of tomorrow. The 3D animated film ‘Transformer 2020’ is the result of a study conducted by a partner network of leading European manufacturers in the transformer industry, a network that also counts thyssenkrupp as a member. In cooperation with customers, universities, institutes, and energy providers, the researchers designed a model of an ideal voltage transformer that is more reliable, quieter, and far more efficient than comparable models.

Technological expertise is required

The heart of this transformer of tomorrow is made of ­PowerCore®-brand, grain-oriented electrical steel and comes from thyssenkrupp Electrical Steel. “This material is a highly sophisticated steel product from a metallurgical standpoint. As a core material, it forms the heart of the transformer,” says Peter Biele, CEO of ­thyssenkrupp Electrical Steel. “­Manufacturing grain-oriented electrical steel requires a lot of experience and expertise,” adds Régis Lemaître, Head of Research & Technology.

It all starts with a coil: Like other forms of steel, electrical steel is delivered to Gelsenkirchen in coil form.
The ­electrical steel specialist has plenty of both. The Gelsenkirchen location will celebrate its 150th birthday in 2016. And there are plants in France and India, too. More than 50 developers are conducting research at these three locations. And it is paying off. “Over the past 20 years we have lowered the power loss of electrical steel by nearly 40 percent,” Biele reports.

New directives require new solutions

The demand for efficient transformers will vastly increase in the future. One reason is the ongoing urbanization and industria­lization process worldwide. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the demand for electricity will increase by two thirds over the next 25 years. In addition, a new Ecodesign Directive came into effect in the EU a few months ago. It mandates that the more than 3.6 million large and medium-sized transformers in Europe must become more efficient. By 2021, power loss must drop by 0.2 percentage points to 1.8 percent.

Several production steps later, it looks like this and is ready to be processed by the transformer industry.
That may not sound like much. But in practice it would result in a savings of 16 terawatt hours, or half the electricity used by Denmark in a year. Biele praises the EU directive: “For us it is an enormous technological push.” After all, this ambitious savings goal cannot be achieved without better transformer cores made of grain-oriented electrical steel. “We have been focusing on this for years, and we invested in innovative technologies at the right time.”

Today, thyssenkrupp Electrical Steel is one of only a small number of manufacturers in the world to produce the full range of these types of electrical steel. Thanks to the development of PowerCore® H18, it is possible to reduce not only energy consumption, but also noise levels. The electrical steel strip is now only 0.18 mm thick and makes transformers quieter. “This is also the result of highly successful cooperation with our customers,” says Biele. “Because the technological infrastructure and the high level of materials expertise at thyssenkrupp are an added benefit that they value greatly.”

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