The Sustainability related opportunities and challenges with various transformer insulation fluids and business case on re-refining
Abstract: Transformers are electrical devices used in practice to increase or decrease voltages. Transformers are of various sizes and used mainly in power distribution. To provide cooling and insulation, transformer oils are used together with cellulose that acts as a solid insulation. The most common type of transformer oil is mineral oil and is a product derived from the refining of crude oil. Its low cost and good compatibility with cellulose are two factors that have led to its predominant position as the common transformer oil. There are also synthetic ester based transformer oils, and following an increased interest in environmentally friendly products, transformer oils made from natural esters such as sunflower, soybean and rapeseed. Mineral oil is not biodegradable and is deemed as hazardous waste. The ester based oils are biodegradable and promoted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to mineral oil. In this thesis, the possibility of re-refining used mineral transformer oil is assessed from a financial perspective in the form of a business case and an LCA study has been done to compare the environmental impacts between ester based transformer oils and mineral based transformer oil. The results from the LCA study showed that from a cradle-to-gate perspective, mineral oil has a lower environmental impact than ester-based transformer oils. The re-refining of used mineral transformer oil further reduces the environmental impact. The results from the business case showed that a small scale re-refining facility is financially feasible but highly dependent on the supply and demand of used transformer oil. It is recommended to pursue further studies before making any decision. There is lack of data regarding the re-refining market in Eastern Europe and the accuracy of the LCA study can be further improved by having emissions data from re-refining used mineral transformer oil.
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