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Northern Indiana substation is filled with soybean oil
Indiana Correspondent

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Indiana’s first electrical substation using soybean oil as a coolant is expected to be up and running this month, utility officials said last week.

The newly constructed substation, in southern Allen County, will use Envirotemp FR3 fluid, developed by Cooper Power Systems. The substation is owned by United Rural Electric Membership Cooperative (REMC), of Markle, Ind.

United REMC, Cooper Power Systems and the Indiana Soybean Board hosted state and local officials Friday to formally announce the project.

“We’re not the first utility to use this, but we’re the first in Indiana to use FR3 in a substation in this large of an application,” said John Klingenberger, United REMC corporate relations manager. “There are a lot of soybeans in there.”

The substation’s large transformer will hold about 3,000 gallons of FR3, and three regulators will each hold about 300 gallons, he said. The nearly 4,000 gallons of FR3 is roughly equivalent to 100 acres of soybeans, he said.

“This is good for us, for the environment and for farmers,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

FR3 is environmentally friendly because it is 100 percent biodegradable, and is safer because it has a higher flash point, Klingenberger said.

The new substation replaces a nearby station that served 1,800 customers and is at capacity, he said. When the new substation is activated in mid-July, it will have about four times the capacity of the current substation.

United REMC serves about 11,000 customers in northeast Indiana, primarily in the rural areas of Allen, Huntington and Wells counties. Construction on the $1.3 million substation began 10 months ago, said Kevin Quickery, United’s CEO.

“We explored the possibility of using FR3, and found it was environmentally friendly, completely biodegradable, nontoxic and provides a new market for Indiana soybeans,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”

FR3 will provide better all-around performance and longevity by helping to preserve insulating paper in the equipment, said Michael Bryja, director of technology commercialization for the Indiana Soybean Board.

“This is good for soybean farmers, good for America and good for utility customers,” he said. “Our goal is to improve profits for Indiana soybean farmers, and this is an important step.”

Finding new uses for Indiana’s agriculture products is critical to the state’s economic future, said Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.

“We’re working to make agriculture central to Indiana’s economic recovery,” she said. “We want to make Indiana a global leader in agriculture innovation.”

FR3 has been in use about 10 years, and was originally developed as a way to help prevent fires, said Ron Chapman, a sales engineer with Cooper Power Systems. Traditionally, transformers are filled with mineral oil, a petroleum based product which is highly flammable, he said.

“The transformer will last four to five times longer with FR3 than with mineral oil,” he said. “We believe this is the future.”

Cooper is working with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to change cleanup procedures if there were to be a spill of FR3, he said.

Currently, if there were a spill, IDEM requires FR3 be cleaned up the same way as petroleum products.

“One of the benefits of FR3 is that in 21 days, it would be gone,” he said. “It wouldn’t do the same harm to the environment or animals.” Ted Martz, president of the board of United REMC, said he believes other utility companies will follow United’s lead.

“By itself, one substation won’t have an overwhelming impact on the environment or a huge impact on farmers,” he said. “But it does raise the bar. It’s a green project and we’re proud to be a part of the bigger picture.”

This farm news was published in the July 5, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.