Chemical innovation can save energy

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The cost of electricity is a constant concern for Norwegians enduring long, cold winters. A chemical innovation at the University of Oslo (UiO) could reduce electricity expenditure in Norway by 10 per cent, according to university research journal Apollon.

Researchers at the University of Oslo claim they can cut energy expenditure by up to 10 per cent. PHOTO: University of Oslo

Researchers at UiO are talking about replacing silicium, better known as silicon, the standard material used in electrical components, with a more durable material, silicon carbide. Upgrading the electrical components in household appliances such as toasters, phone chargers, dishwashers and more, could save Norway the equivalent of the energy used to power Hordaland County.

Silicon (not to be confused with silicone, the clear rubbery substance used for breast implants), has been used to manufacture electrical components since the 1960s. According to researchers, the problem with this material lies in the amount of energy lost in heat emission. Silicon carbide is a combination of silicon and carbon, and next to diamonds, is one of the strongest materials on the planet. It can withstand up to three times the heat and has a higher capacity for tension and frequency. Silicon can be found in sand, whereas silicon carbide must be manufactured synthetically, bringing up the cost.

Lars Løvlie is part of a silicon carbide research team at UiO, who spend their days at the Micro- and Nanolaboratory (MiNaLab), a cooperative venture between the university and the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia (SINTEF). While it is likely the technology will be fully developed in the next three to 10 years, researchers like him remain optimistically cautious about what this discovery might mean for future energy prices and expansion of the Norwegian grid.

“Although it is not realistic to substitute with silicon carbide overnight, authorities can take this new technology into consideration,” Løvlie told Apollon.

While the advantages of using silicon carbide are plenty, the research team’s leader Professor Bengt Svensson points out that the Transmission System Operator (TSO) of the Norwegian electric power system (Statnett) has not done so in its most recent estimates. ”Authorities are aware of the technology, but are currently just observing. Norway has done very little. Sweden a bit more. Germany and Japan are really on to it,” he told Apollon.

Martha Hagerup Nilson, communications advisor for Statnett confirms that they have not considered this particular technology and told Apollon, “A technology that is not available for three to 10 years is not likely to have a large impact on energy expenditure in 10 years, as it takes time to implement new technologies and use of materials.”

Views and News from Norway/Liv Buli
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