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Review of Recent Changes to Mineral Insulating Oil

Specifications
Steve Krawiec, P.Eng.
Petro-Canada, Mississauga, Ontario
Abstract - In the past few years the major transformer oil
specifications used in North America and Europe have undergone a
number of changes. These changes have been in response to specific
issues such as corrosive sulphur, changes in oil quality levels and the
needs of new large transformers to ensure long, trouble free service
life for valuable assets. This paper will review what specifications
are in use in these markets and what changes have occurred or are
likely to occur in the near term. The specifications reviewed will be
CSA C50 (Canada), ASTM D3487 (US), Doble TOPS (US), IEEE
C57.106 (US) and IEC 60296 (Europe). The implications of these
changes on future transformer fluid development will also be
reviewed. This paper will assist utilities and transformer OEMs,
that set their own specifications, to bring these up to current status.

BACKGROUND
The modern transformer is an engineering marvel, but its history
is one of constant change and improvement. The concept was
patented in 1882 by Lucien Gaulard and John D. Gibbs who used
devices known as secondary generators (transformers) to step
up and step down voltages in their AC distribution system [1].
Since 1882, the transformer has been engineered and reengineered many times over. Enhancements to every facet of the
operation have occurred and continue to occur. As an example,
here is a listing of some material and design changes that have
happened over the years:
Significant Transformer Material and Design Changes [2]
1907 2%-4% silicon steel
1908 Condenser Bushings
1921 De-energized tap changer
1926 Subdivided conductors to reduce eddy-current losses
1937 Machine wound cores for distribution transformers
1955 Computer used in design
1957 Load tap changer
1960 Thermally upgraded Kraft paper
1970 Copper improvements
1980 Amorphous core material, Nomex
1990 High temperature super conductor, wide use of alternative
fluids, alternative power sources, on-line monitoring
What has this meant for transformer manufacturers? It meant

that they had to adapt to a changing design environment,


reducing tolerances and any fat they had built into their units.
The transformers got smaller but became far more powerful over
the years. Here is an excerpt from one manufacturer:
Compared to those designs I personally did 30 years ago,
modern designs are done with the extensive use of computers. It
starts with design optimization that develops the best possible
design for the individual transformer including the cost of
ownership (losses, installation, maintenance, etc.) in addition to
the initial cost (material and labour plus profit). We also make
extensive use of modern analytical toolsto do our calculations
which allow us to minimize the overall size and weights for the
same electrical rating units.
Below is a comparison where some of these design changes have
had an impact:
Transformer Comparisons Between the 1970s and 1980s [2]

12% decrease in total weight


11% decrease in case weight
10% decrease in oil weight
13% decrease in core & coil weight
7 to 33% decrease in electrical clearances
9% decrease in no-load losses
3.5% decrease in load losses
25% increase in number of pumps

Overall, these changes have resulted in transformer designs that


push the units to higher and higher levels. Anecdotal and
empirical evidence suggest that all the key materials in a
transformer (copper, steel, oil, solid insulation) are now
"working" much harder than the ones built decades earlier.
Why all the background on transformer manufacturing and the
changes that have taken place over the years? Simply to enforce
the point that this is not a static industry and that it is able to
adapt to meet new market demands.
Changing to the demands of the market has been clearly seen in
the insulating oil segment over the past few years. Significant
problems, such as corrosive sulphur, have caught everyones
attention and some of the main players (oil producers,

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transformer manufacturers, testing labs, standards committees,


etc.) all worked to try and mitigate the issues. The rest of this
paper will focus on insulating oil and some of the changes that
have occurred or are expected to occur in the industry
specifications.
MINERAL OIL
Mineral oil is the most common type of insulating fluid used in
transformers today. It has its origins of use in the late 1880s and
has evolved over the years to reflect the changes in transformers
themselves. In a transformer, mineral oil has four main functions
[3]:
-

Provide Dielectric Strength


Provide Heat Transfer (Cooling)
Protect the Paper Insulation
Act as a Diagnostic Tool for the Condition of the
Equipment

It has been said that a transformer will only last as long as the
paper insulation lasts. With numerous changes happening to the
transformer itself, there has also been an effect on the insulating
oil, specifically the demands placed on it to perform its functions.
Not only has the energy output requirements of a transformer
pushed oil manufacturers to develop better products, but the
amount of oil used in newer units has steadily decreased thus
putting even more pressure on the oil, as shown in Table 1:
Manufacturing Year

Litres Oil per kVA Rating

1915

7.6

1945

1.9

1960

1.3

1977

0.5

Recent Years

0.4

Table 1 - Quantity of Oil Used to Insulate a Transformer per kVA Rating of


Transformer [1]

The bottom line is that modern insulating oils must provide better
heat transfer and higher levels of stability to ensure a long life for

valuable transformer assets.


OIL STANDARDS
The insulating oil industry developed standards that tried to take
variations in oil quality out of the equation for transformer
owners and operators. Unfortunately, over the years there have
been many catastrophic unit failures due to the inability of poorer
quality oils to meet the increasing demands placed upon them.
As such, industry standards have had to evolve along with
everything else.
For the North American market, there are five main industry
specifications that can be used to determine the properties of the
new oil being received. These are [4,5,6,7,8]:
CSA C50-08
ASTM D3487-08
IEEE C57.106-2006
DOBLE TOPS-2008
IEC 60296:2003
The inclusion of IEC 60296, which is a European specification,
may seem peculiar, but it is still referenced by some utilities in
North America. As well, it recently has had a direct influence on
the CSA-C50 specification that is important for the Canadian
market.
It is important to note that some utilities have their own standards
for new oil, based on one or more of the ones listed here. If such
is the case, it is the authors recommendation that the latest
version of the reference standard(s) be obtained and reviewed to
ensure consistency with the companys internal documentation.
Below is Table 2 that will be used to compare four North
American specifications. Please note that the IEEE C57.106 is
listed along with the ASTM D3487. This is because the IEEE
specification refers the reader to ASTM in all cases except for
those noted in parentheses. The highlighted rows are those
properties which will be discussed in more detail.

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Table 2: Comparison of North American Mineral Oil Specifications


PROPERTY

TEST

CSA-C50 CLASS A

ASTM D3487 (IEEE

DOBLE TOPS

C57.106)
TYPE I /

TYPE II /

III

IV

TYPE I

TYPE II

TYPE I

TYPE II

PHYSICAL PROPERTIES
Aniline Point, C

ASTM D611

Appearance

N/A

63 min

63 min

Visual

N/A

Clear & Bright

Clear & Bright

Colour

ASTM D1500

0.5 max

0.5 max

0.5 max

Specific Gravity @ 15 C

ASTM D1298

0.906 max

0.91 max

0.91 max

Kinematic Visc, cSt @ 100C

ASTM D445

N/A

3.0 max

3.0 max

Kinematic Visc, cSt @ 40C

ASTM D445

10.0 max

12.0 max

11.0 max

Kinematic Visc, cSt @ 0C

ASTM D445

75.0 max

76.0 max

76.0 max

Kinematic Visc, cSt @ -40C

ASTM D445

2500 max

N/A

N/A

Pour Point, C

ASTM D97

-46 max

-40 max

-40 max

IFT @ 25C, dynes/cm

ASTM D971

40 min

40 min

40 min

Flash Point, C

ASTM D92

145 min

145 min

145 min

Neut Number, mg KOH/g

ASTM D974

0.03 max

0.03 max (0.015 max)

0.015 max

Water Content, ppm

ASTM D1533

35 max

35 max (25 max)

30 max

Corrosive Sulphur

ASTM D1275B

Non-corrosive

Non-corrosive

Non-corrosive

PCB Content, ppm

ASTM D4059

Inhibitor Content, wt%

ASTM D2668

RPVOT, minutes
Oxid Stab, wt% Sludge @ 72h

CHEMICAL PROPERTIES

2 max

Not detectable

0.08

>0.080.40

ASTM D2112

N/A

ASTM D2440

0.1 max

Oxid Stab, Neut # mg KOH/g @ 72h

ASTM D2440

0.4 max

N/A

Oxid Stab, wt% Sludge @ 164h

ASTM D2440

0.2 max

0.05 max

Oxid Stab, Neut # mg KOH/g @ 164h

ASTM D2440

0.5 max

0.2 max

0.6 max

Oxid Stab for Type III / IV Oils

IEC 61125 C
(III): 332 h

Not detectable

0.08

>0.080.30

0.08

>0.080.30

195 min

N/A

195 min

195 min

220 min

N/A

0.15 max

0.1 max

0.15 mx

0.1 max

0.5 max

0.3 max

0.5 max

0.3 max

0.3 max

0.2 max

0.3 max

0.2 max

0.4 max

0.6 max

0.4 max

Type III and Type IV

N/A

N/A

Sludge, %

0.08 max

N/A

N/A

Neut Number, mg KOH/g

1.2 max

N/A

N/A

Power Factor @ 90C

0.5 max

N/A

N/A

(IV): 500 h

ELECTRICAL PROPERTIES
Dielectric Breakdown Voltage, min, kV

ASTM D877

30 min

30 min

30 min

Dielectric Breakdown Voltage, 2.03

ASTM D1816

24 min

35 min

20 min (1.02 mm gap)

Dielectric Breakdown Impulse, kV

ASTM D3300

145 min

145 min

145 min

Gassing Tendency, L/min

ASTM D2300

N/A

+30 max

Negative (Optional)

Power Factor, 100C, %

ASTM D924

0.5 max

0.3 max

0.3 max

Power Factor, 25C, %

ASTM D924

0.05 max

0.05 max

0.05 max

mm gap, min, kV

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The first point to note is that not all of the limits are the same.
This is not surprising as each standard was developed on its own,
usually using the others as guidelines. Each standard is designed
to reflect the requirements of the oils available in their specific
areas of influence.

It is expected that a version of the CCD method (whether from


Doble or IEC) will be included in all major specifications, once
approved.

Oxidation Stability

This specification is a perfect example of how insulating oil


quality has changed through the years and how the standards
adjust accordingly. Aniline Point is the temperature at which the
oil dissolves aniline, which is an aromatic compound. It was felt
many years ago that the lower the aniline point, such as exhibited
with naphthenic oils, the better the oil would be able to re-absorb
oxidation by-products into itself. A higher aniline point was a
main drawback to paraffinic oils and the standards were set up to
reflect this.

The Canadian CSA-C50 standard was recently updated (2008) to


include two new types of insulating fluid for Class A products
Type III and Type IV. These new types correspond with the
existing Types I and II respectively, with the exception of an
added requirement for longer oxidation stability.
This now corresponds to the European IEC 60296 standard. The
oxidation stability test for Types III and IV (IEC 61125C) is the
current baseline for oxidation stability in Europe. The CSA
adopted the requirements as an option for users who want oils for
general use with the benefit of a much longer oil life. Types III
and IV oils are also suitable for special applications.
Corrosive Sulphur
The past few years have seen quite a few transformer failures due
to poor quality oils and the effects of corrosive sulphur. This is a
well documented and well understood phenomena in the global
transformer industry. The electrical industry in North America
responded by developing a modified ASTM D1275 test method
to better detect an oil that was corrosive in nature. Doble
Engineering led the way with extensive testing in this area, and
consequently were leaders to adopt the new ASTM D1275B test
method into their TOPS standard. In the latest versions of the
CSA-C50 and the ASTM D3487, the D1275B was also
incorporated.
For the European specification, it was decided to not incorporate
the D1275B test method into their IEC 60296 standard. It was
felt that the D1275B, which only uses oil and copper, did not
accurately reflect the operations of a working transformer where
copper sulphide deposition can occur on the paper insulation.
Special test procedures that use oil, copper and paper (known as
Covered Conductor Deposition or CCD), have been studied by
Working Group A2.32 and a report on their findings has been
issued. Formal approval by Technical Committee TC 10 of a
revised IEC 60296 incorporating the CCD test method is not
expected to happen until 2010 or later.
Doble Engineering has also been following the CCD test regime
in Europe closely. They have taken some of the preliminary test
methods and incorporated their expertise to develop their own
version of a CCD test method. This method is included in the
2008 version of Doble TOPS.

Aniline Point

Over time, standards committees have recognized that better


quality oils, such as severely refined iso-paraffin and naphthenic
mineral oils, were being used effectively in the market even with
high aniline points. The Aniline Point specifications needed to
change to allow for these types of oils. As a result, both ASTM
D3487 and Doble TOPS removed the upper limit. Neither the
CSA-C50 nor the IEC 60296 have reference to it.
OTHER INSULATING MEDIA
The focus of this paper has been on mineral oils. But, with all
the changes taking place in the transformer industry, it should be
acknowledged that there are insulating media other than mineral
oils (excluding paper) [2]:
-

Natural and Synthetic Ester Based Fluid


Silicone Fluid
SF6
Chlorinated Benzenes
Perchloroethylene
Polyalpha Olefins
Freon
Phenyl xylyl ethane
Polybutenes
Alkyl benzenes
High Molecular Weight Hydrocarbon Fluid
Askarel (PCB) Manufacture banned since 1979

Of the above, it has been Ester based fluids that have really come
into their own in the past few years. In fact, new standards have
been created specifically for Esters:

IEEE C57.147-2008: IEEE Guide for Acceptance and


Maintenance of Natural Ester Fluids in Transformers
ASTM D687-03 (2008): Standard Specification for
Natural (Vegetable Oil) Ester Used in Electrical
Apparatus

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INDUSTRY REVIEW
In 2008, a report was issued on behalf of CIGRE SC A2 by
Advisory Group AG A2.4 Transformer Technology [9]. The
report outlined where the transformer industry is today and where
it is expected to go in the near future and long term.
In terms of insulating systems, present status of the industry
indicates that most power transformers utilize naphthenic mineral
oil and cellulose insulation. AG A2.4 highlights the fact that
severely refined iso-paraffin mineral oils as well as esters fluids
are being used more and more due to the enhanced properties
they offer. The use of each of these fluids is expected to increase
in the near future.

REFERENCES
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

In the long term, the report indicates that the industry will see the
quality of their insulating fluids increase. Enhanced properties
could include:

Better dielectric properties


Better thermal properties
Higher oxidation stability

These properties will lead to more efficient, compact and safe


power transformers.

6.
7.
8.

SUMMARY
Transformers in general and insulating mineral oils in particular
have undergone numerous changes throughout their history.
Industry standards for mineral oil try to keep pace with the latest
types of electrical insulating fluids and test methods to ensure the
oils being used for transformers are of acceptable quality and
meet the necessary demands put on them.

9.

Myers, Stanley D. et al, A Guide to Transformer


Maintenance 2nd Edition, Transformer Maintenance
Institute, Akron, OH, 1988.
SD Myers, An Introduction to the Half-Century
Transformer Seminar Notes, Transformer
Maintenance Institute, Louisville, KY, 2005.
Horning, Mike et al, Transformer Maintenance Guide
3rd Edition, Transformer Maintenance Institute, Akron,
OH, 2004.
CAN/CSA-C50-08, Insulating Oil, Electrical for
Transformers and Switches, Canadian Standards
Association, Etobicoke, ON, 2008.
ASTM D3487-08, Standard Specification for Mineral
Insulating Oil Used in Electrical Apparatus, ASTM
International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2008.
IEEE C57.106-2006, IEEE Guide for Acceptance and
Maintenance of Insulating Oil in Equipment, IEEE
Power Engineering Society, New York, NY, 2007.
Doble TOPS-2008, Doble Transformer Oil Purchase
Specification,
Doble
Engineering
Company,
Watertown, MA, 2008.
IEC 60296:2003, Fluids for Electrotechnical
Applications Unused Mineral Insulating Oils for
Transformers and Switchgear, Third Edition,
International Electrotechnical Commission, Geneva,
Switzerland, 2003.
Sim, H. Jin et al, Power Transformers Technology
Review and Assessments, ELECTRA # 236, February,
2008.

A review of the North American standards indicates a move


towards higher quality and more highly refined mineral oils
which provide better heat transfer and a purer, more stable
product. The recent changes in the standards clearly reflect this
market trend.

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