Transformers for a Modernized Grid

OPEN 2018
New Mexico
Project Term:
05/06/2019 - 05/06/2022

Critical Need:

Developing a modern, efficient, and resilient electrical grid is vital for our nation. The average age of the large-scale power transformers that the grid depends on is 40 years. Because of increased load and changing power sources, many of these transformers are operating under stresses unanticipated when they were first built. These stresses make them vulnerable to geo-magnetic disturbances (GMDs) produced by large solar storms and electro-magnetic pulses (EMPs) produced by high-altitude nuclear explosions. Either could cause catastrophic failure in the transformers resulting in blackouts and severe grid damage nationwide, with full recovery taking up to 10 years. Because all other critical infrastructure (water, food, transportation, communications, finance) are dependent on an operational electrical grid, such a collapse could endanger millions of people and cripple the U.S. Transformers can fail due to arcing between windings and/or excessive internal heating brought on by magnetic core saturation. Transformers become more vulnerable to damage as they age due to the degradation of the dielectric Kraft paper, which requires a complete overhaul of the transformer for its replacement.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Sandia National Laboratories will develop advanced core materials for grid-level electrical transformers, improving their efficiency and resiliency. Current transformers feature copper windings surrounding a magnetic core. The project team’s new core material seeks to increase electrical efficiency by at least 10% while enabling a 50% reduction in transformer size. The core will be robust, withstanding EMPs and GMDs that threaten today’s grid. Sandia will also develop additives that can be added to the oil in existing transformers as a retrofit as well as included in new transformers. One additive will dramatically increase the heat conduction away from the transformer windings during high-current events by transitioning to a heat-conducting solid at high temperature. Another additive will react with the existing dielectric Kraft paper, cross-linking reactive groups on the paper and restoring the integrity of the insulation. These additives will increase the resiliency and robustness of existing and new transformers to EMP and GMD events.

Potential Impact:

This project will develop advanced core materials that will increase transformer electrical efficiency, signficantly reduce transformer size and weight, and strengthen resilience to EMP and GMD events.


New, advanced transformers will provide significant protection from EMP and GMD events. 


This project could help improve the energy efficiency of the power grid and reduce some of the harmful emissions created by coal-fired power plants.


A new combination of alloys for cores will halve the size of large-scale transformers while exceeding DOE efficiency requirements of 98%.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Isik Kizilyalli
Project Contact:
Todd Monson
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of California - Irvine

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