Tipmont REMC achieves a Midwest first with use of soybean oil in overhead transformers

LINDEN, Ind. and LAFAYETTE, Ind., April 29, 2005 — Tipmont REMC announced that all overhead electric transformers it purchases in the future will be transformers that utilize a soybean-based oil rather than petroleum oil as a coolant. That’s good news for the 28,000 soybean farmers in Indiana, the nation’s third-largest soybean producer.

Tipmont is the first electric utility in the Midwest to make such a commitment to the environment, safety and the agricultural economy. The electric cooperative and its transformer supplier, Cooper Power Systems of Waukesha, Wisc., believe Tipmont is the second utility in the nation, following Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California, to make such a system-wide commitment.

“From here on out, all the overhead transformers we buy will use a coolant made with soybean oil,” said Tipmont general manager Ken Ritchey. This spring, Tipmont purchased its first 40 transformers using the soy oil.

The company expects to buy and install about 200 of the new-style transformers annually, with each transformer generally serving one or two residences or small businesses. Because of rapid residential growth and new subdivisions in its service territory, in recent years Tipmont has added about 1,000 customers annually to its service lines, Ritchey said.

“One reason for changing to transformers that use soybean-based fluid is the benefit to the agriculture industry,” Ritchey said. “There’s long been an important tie between electric cooperatives and agriculture, so anything we can do to benefit the agricultural economy comes naturally.”

Equally important, Ritchey noted, are other benefits of the soybean oil-based product. “Soybeans are a renewable source, so this lessens our country’s dependence on foreign oil. It’s also biodegradable, making spills less harmful and inexpensive to clean up. And it’s less hazardous, with a much higher fire point, which is an important safety factor.”

The Cooper Power Systems transformers utilize Envirotemp FR3 transformer fluid as a coolant. Cooper developed the soybean oil-based dielectric, which means it cannot conduct electricity, in the mid-1990s. The fluid is now produced for Cooper by Cargill Industrial Oils and Lubricants in Chicago.

“Cooper Power Systems recognizes Tipmont REMC as one of the leaders in the utility industry, balancing the needs of environmental stewardship, support for the agricultural community, fire safety, and performance in their transformer selection,” said Jonathan Piel, product manager for Cooper’s Envirotran Transformers.

“Each acre of soybeans produces enough oil for four overhead transformers,” Piel said. “The U.S. transformer industry requires almost 75 million gallons a year for all new transformer installations-equivalent to 1.2 million acres of soybean production. Cooper Power has recently partnered with Cargill Industrial Oils and Lubricants as we prepare to meet the increased demand by utilities like Tipmont for this revolutionary fluid.”

FR3 fluid is an edible oil and shown to be quickly biodegradable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Piel noted. “Tipmont recognizes the FR3 fluid-filled transformer is the best transformer investment they can make today that will provide longer life for equipment as well as environmental protection,” he said.

The Indiana Soybean Board hailed Tipmont’s announcement.

“The Indiana Soybean Board is excited to be part of the commercialization process of this emerging soy technology,” said Michael Bryja, director of technology commercialization for the Indianapolis-based nonprofit.

“With partners like Tipmont REMC and Cooper Power Systems, we have a much stronger message to tell our farmer stakeholders as well as the entire state,” Bryja said. “These technological advances utilizing soybeans are working, and we’re bringing more good things to market.”

Soybean utilization researcher Bernard Tao, a Purdue University professor of biochemical and food process engineering in Agriculture Food Science, said the use of soybean oil in transformers is an important step. “This is significant because you are proving you can replace petroleum products with vegetable oil, and that will lead to others. That’s the major impact,” Tao said. “Because most of the petroleum in the U.S. comes from non-domestic sources, of course it’s beneficial if we can grow material that will replace petroleum products and do it in a renewable fashion.”

Tipmont sits in the heart of soybean country, with a service area that includes the state’s first- and sixth-largest soybean-producing counties-Montgomery County, which produced 6.5 million bushels in 2004, and Clinton County, weighing in with 5.5 million bushels. In the four-county area Tipmont serves, which also includes Fountain and Tippecanoe counties, some 404,900 acres were planted in soybeans in 2004, yielding 21.8 million bushels.

Adjacent counties to Tipmont’s service area rank high in soybean production, too. White County was second in the state, with 6.4 million bushels in 2004; Boone was third, with 6.3 million bushels, and Benton was fifth, with 5.7 million bushels. Indiana itself ranked third in the nation for soybean production in 2004, with 287 million bushels produced out of the nation’s record 3.14 billion bushels, according to figures from the Department of Agricultural Statistics at Purdue University.

About Tipmont REMC [ www.tipmont.com ]

Headquartered in Linden, Tipmont provides electric service to more than 20,000 sites, primarily in Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery and Tippecanoe counties, as well as portions of other nearby counties. Tipmont’s sites include Caterpillar Logistics, Precise Technology, Lafayette’s Wal-Mart, numerous hotels and many school corporations.

The member-owned electric cooperative has been serving west central Indiana residents and businesses since 1939. Tipmont also offers long-distance calling plans; Internet access; and home and business security systems, through its partial ownership of OneTouch Security Plus.

Tipmont is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative, a national alliance of local, consumer-owned electric cooperatives providing high standards of service to customers and dedicated to serving customers with integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community.

About Cooper Power Systems

Cooper Power Systems is a subsidiary of Cooper Industries, a diversified worldwide manufacturer of products for the electrical, commercial and industrial markets. CPS manufactures distribution transformers, distribution switchgear, reclosers, capacitors, protective relays, voltage regulators, automated switches, cable accessories, surge arrestors, transformer components and dielectric fluids, fuses and tools, and it provides engineering services for the electrical and industrial markets.

About Indiana Soybean Board

The Indiana Soybean Board works to enhance the profitability of Indiana soybean farmers through the effective and efficient investment of soybean checkoff funds. ISB is a pioneer in building new markets for soybeans, including biodesiel, soyfoods and new international markets. ISB is made up of 36 elected farmer-leaders who direct investments of the soybean checkoff funds on behalf of more than 28,000 Indiana soybean farmers.

Tipmont REMC Background Information

Transformer installation

Installation of overhead transformers utilizing soybean-based oil as a non-conductive, dielectric coolant begins in Spring 2005 at Tipmont REMC with an initial order of 40 transformers. Installation will be ongoing as transformers are installed at new utility sites and old transformers are replaced. The company expects to install about 200 new transformers a year at its current growth and replacement rate.

Transformer and fluid suppliers

The transformers are manufactured by Cooper Power Systems of Waukesha, Wisconsin, who developed the soybean oil-based dielectric coolant known as Envirotemp FR3Fluid in the mid-1990s. In September 2004, Cooper entered into an agreement with Cargill Industrial Oils to produce the insulating fluid at its Chicago plant.

Oil in transformers

An electric transformer is the equipment that transforms voltage from high levels, used to carry power over long distances with minimal loss, to the lower levels needed for local use. Transformers contain coils of wire that are submerged in oil to remove heat from the wires carrying the electricity, which reduces the voltage.

These oils do not conduct electricity, and they are stable over a wide range of temperatures. Most electric utility transformers today use petroleum-based oils as coolants.

Benefits of Soybean Oil

The advantages of soybean-based oil, a vegetable oil, over petroleum products include:

* Soybean oil is a renewable source
* Soybean oil is biodegradable, causing less harm to the environment if spilled
* Soybean oil is more gentle on the cellulose-based paper that insulates the transformer coils because it has a greater capacity to pull atmospheric water that gets into the transformer from the paper, protecting the paper from hydrolysis.
* Transformers using soybean oil are expected to last about 40 years rather than the typical 30 years.
* Soybean oil is less of a fire hazard than petroleum-based oils, should there be a fire.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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