EDF's Energy Networks division has unveiled plans for a trial of the world's first major transformer filled with vegetable oil in what the company claims could be a cutting edge development for the electricity industry.

The insulating liquid, made from edible seeds, will replace the use of mineral oil in a 132,000 volt transformer serving thousands of customers in Luton, UK. The transformer has been purpose-built for EDF Energy Networks by Areva T&D and is filled with Envirotemp FR3 fluid supplied by Cooper Power Systems.

As the fluid is made from a natural, renewable resource, it is an environmentally friendly alternative to depleting mineral oils. The green liquid is also biodegradable, less flammable and is reputed to extend the life of the transformer.

Although this oil has been used in electricity distribution at a lower voltage and other companies have filled existing 161,000 volt transformers with it, this is the first time it has been used at such a high voltage in the UK with a transformer specially built for this purpose.

EDF Energy will be working together with the school of electrical and electronic engineering at The University of Manchester and Areva T&D to compare the performance of the vegetable oil-filled transformer with a second transformer filled with mineral oil.

The vegetable oil filled-transformer is due to be installed on EDF’s network in 2007. It contains 30,000 liters of the new fluid and will play an essential role in the transmission of electricity supplies to homes and businesses, the company said.

We hope other distribution network operators can learn from our example, fitting with our ambition to be a point of reference in the electricity industry, stated Paul Dyer, EDF Energy Networks transformer specialist. This breakthrough is good news for the environment and presents an opportunity for the whole electricity industry.