Africa’s first ester transformer fluid factory opens

November 9th, 2018, Published in Articles: Energize

UK-based M&I Materials has opened a manufacturing facility in Ekurhuleni. The factory, which is the first of its kind in Africa, will produce the company’s Midel brand of fire-safe and biodegradable ester dielectric fluids for electricity transformers.

Speaking at the official launch in Sandton, the company’s chief executive, Giles Salt, said that the factory, which will operate in cooperation with ISEGEN South Africa, will manufacture natural ester dielectric fluid for 6000 of Eskom’s transformers. The launch event was attended by representatives from South Africa’s major transformer manufacturers, Eskom, municipal utilities and the media.

Fig. 1: Eskom’s Prince Moyo cuts the ribbon to open the factory. With him are, from left: Victor Khuboni, M&I Materials South Africa; Grant Fowlds, ISEGEN; Giles Salt, M&I Materials; and Bonginkosi Mamba, Department of Trade and Industry.

According to Salt, natural esters will replace mineral oil in “wet” transformers because they offer particular advantages over mineral oil. These benefits include a higher flash point temperature, a lower calorific value, improved viscosity at extended temperatures, and offering no environmental risk in the event of leakage from the transformer. The opening of this manufacturing facility demonstrates the company’s commitment to sub-Saharan Africa, Salt said, adding that the company will provide products and technical support to power utilities and transformer manufacturers across the region.

Although Eskom determined the technical specifications of the dielectric fluid which is to be produced for use in its transformers, the power utility will not be the principal off-taker of the product, Prince Moyo, Eskom’s general manager for power delivery engineering, pointed out. Rather, he said, the natural ester dielectric fluid will be sold to local manufacturers which sell transformers to Eskom.

Steve Jones, the company’s sales director, said that the plant will buy its raw material – seed oil – from local farmers. The intention, he said, is to support about 400 local farms. The project is therefore greater than simply the manufacture of transformer oil: it provides opportunities for job creation, a reduction in the amount of imported oil – with associated advantages such as reduced balance of payments – as well as offering South African transformer manufacturers a locally produced product which will improve the reliability and life of the transformers they make.

Moyo said that one of the principal advantages of natural esters over mineral oil is their higher flash point and fire point temperatures. In the event of a transformer failure, the natural ester will not burn like mineral oil does, making the failure more “elegant” and less destructive to adjacent equipment. Also, he said, should the dielectric fluid leak from the transformer, there will be no need to employ soil experts to clean up the mess because the natural ester is fully biodegradable.

Nigel Casey, the British High Commissioner to South Africa, said that M&I Material’s investment in South Africa is part of a bigger programme by the British government to increase investment in South Africa. The British government, he said, is desirous to see greater employment opportunities being made available, particularly in “cleaner, greener” industry sectors.

Victor Khuboni, the company’s business development manager for sub-Saharan Africa, who is based in Johannesburg, said that making Midel ester transformer fluids in South Africa will support local manufacturing, increase skills development and create transformational opportunities for local communities.

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