University of Manchester and National Grid named Best Innovation in Net Zero

National Grid and The University of Manchester have been named ’Best Innovation in Net Zero and Sustainability’ at the E&T Innovation Awards for their commitment to developing a retrofill solution to replace SF6.

SF6 is a gas commonly used in the power industry to provide electrical insulation and arc interruption. However, SF6 is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential that is 25,200 times greater than CO2+.

This award reflects the significant steps taken by Manchester experts and National Grid to address this issue, closing the gap between an unsustainable present and a more sustainable future.

Celebrating an initial project delivered in 2020, today’s award comes as Manchester and National Grid confirm their commitment to addressing the challenge. Earlier this year, the team announced a 1.9m project that will see experts at Manchester help determine how National Grid can develop a retrofill solution to replace SF6 with an environmentally friendlier alternative - without having to replace or otherwise modify the existing equipment.

This solution - to be demonstrated at National Grid’s test facility the Deeside Centre for Innovation - will mean National Grid can avoid the environmental impact and cost of replacing equipment otherwise fit for many more years’ service.

Together the University and National Grid will create a physical demonstration, complete with an inbuilt condition-based monitoring system, that will focus on the applicability of SF6 retrofill techniques. It will be developed in Manchester’s High Voltage Research Laboratory, equipped with facilities that can test up to 600 kV DC, 800 kV AC, and 2 MV impulse, and has been the testbed for developing pioneering solutions such as improved designs of high voltage overhead lines and developing safer, greener high voltage transformers using ester liquid.

In a separate pilot project last year National Grid and Hitachi Energy developed and deployed a world-first solution at Richborough substation in Kent to replace SF6 with a greener alternative, marking a key step in National Grid’s ambition to reduce its SF6 emissions by 50% by 2030.

Our partnership with Nation Grid is focused one shared goal: to deliver real impact. Today’s win celebrates our ability to innovate at pace and find ways to deploy innovative solutions onto the live electricity network, so we can ensure the UK has access to reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable energy.

Dr Tony Chen, Senior Lecturer in High Voltage Engineering within the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Nicola Todd, head of strategy and innovation at National Grid Electricity Transmission, said: "This is a proud moment for the teams involved and is testament to the combined expertise and innovation capability of National Grid and The University of Manchester colleagues on this project. The initiative is deepening our understanding of SF6 retrofill solutions, and could boost our progress in the decarbonisation of the grid while achieving a significant cost benefit for consumers."

Energy is one of The University of Manchester’s five research beacons, examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the planet. This project reflects the commitment of Manchester’s energy experts in delivering a just and prosperous Net Zero energy future.

By matching science and engineering, with social science, economics, politics and arts, the University’s community of 600+ experts address the entire lifecycle of each energy challenge, creating innovative and enduring solutions to make a difference to the lives of people around the globe. This enables the Manchester research community to develop pathways to ensure a low carbon energy transition that will also drive jobs, prosperity, resilience, and equality.

National Grid’s Deeside Centre for Innovation in North Wales is the first of its kind in Europe, where electricity network assets can be tested under real life conditions, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The facility provides a controlled test and demonstration environment to collect data, including a high voltage substation and overhead line test area simulating real network conditions.