Find and Repair a 230kV 800Amp Oil-Filled Power Cable Feels Like Mission Impossible

How do you fix a shorted cable ? Not just any cable. An underground, 3-phase, 230kV, 800 amp per phase, 10 mile long one, carrying power from a power station to a distribution centre. It costs $13,000 per hour in downtime, counting 1989 money, and takes 8 months to fix. That’s almost $75 million. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power did this fix about 26 years ago on the cable going from the Scattergood Steam Plant in El Segundo to a distribution center near Bundy and S.M. Blvd. [Jamie Zawinski] posted details on his blog in 2002. [Jamie] a.k.a [jwz] may be familiar to many as one of the founders of Netscape and Mozilla.

To begin with, you need Liquid Nitrogen. Lots of it. As in truckloads. The cable is 16 inch diameter co-axial, filled with 100,000 gallons of oil dielectric pressurised to 200 psi. You can’t drain out all the oil for lots of very good reasons – time and cost being on top of the list. That’s where the LN2 comes in. They dig holes on both sides (20-30 feet each way) of the fault, wrap the pipe with giant blankets filled with all kind of tubes and wires, feed LN2 through the tubes, and *freeze* the oil. With the frozen oil acting as a plug, the faulty section is cut open, drained, the bad stuff removed, replaced, welded back together, topped off, and the plugs are thawed. To make sure the frozen plugs don’t blow out, the oil pressure is reduced to 80 psi during the repair process. They can’t lower it any further, again due to several compelling reasons. The cable was laid in 1972 and was designed to have a MTBF of 60 years.

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Why Is There Liquid Nitrogen On the Street Corner?

Any NYC hackers may have noticed something a bit odd this summer while taking a walk… Giant tanks of the Liquid Nitrogen have been popping up around the city.

There are hoses that go from the tanks to manholes. They’re releasing the liquid nitrogen somewhere… Are they freezing sewer alligators? Fighting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Or perhaps, cooling our phone lines??

Luckily, we now have an answer. Popular Science writer [Rebecca Harrington] got to investigate it as part of her job. As it turns out, the liquid nitrogen is being used to pressurize the cables carrying our precious phone and internet service in NYC. The cables have a protective sheath covering them, but during construction and repairs, the steam build up in some of the sewers can be too much for them — so they use liquid nitrogen expanding into gas to supplement the pressurized cables in order to keep the them dry. As the liquid nitrogen boils away, it expands 175 times which helps keep moisture out of the cables.

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Hackaday Links: June 29, 2014


Ever see a really cool build on YouTube with no build details at all? Frustrating, right? That’s us with the NES Keytar covering the Game of Thrones theme. He’s using a Raspi with the sound chip in the NES to do live chiptunes. Freakin’ awesome. There’s also the ST:TNG theme as well.

A few years ago the folks at Oculus had an idea – because of cellphones, small, high resolution displays are really cheap, so why not make VR goggles? At Google IO this week someone figured out everyone already has a cellphone, so just wrap it in some cardboard and call it a set of VR goggles. You can get a kit here, but the only difficult to source components are the lenses.

What happens when you put liquid nitrogen under a vacuum? Well, it should evaporate more, get colder, and freeze. Then it breaks up into solid nitrogen snow. No idea what you would do with this, but there ‘ya go. Oh, [NC], we’re going to need a writeup of that LN2 generator.

About a month ago, the House4Hack hackerspace in South Africa told us of their plans to bring a glider down from 20km above the Earth. They finally launched it, The CAA only allowed them to glide back from 6km (20,000 feet), but even from there the foam glider hit 230kph (124 knots). That’s a little impressive for a foam FPV platform, and we’re betting something with a larger wingspan would probably break a spar or something. Shout out to HABEX.

All the electronic dice projects we’ve seen have one thing in common: they’re not cubes. Thus uberdice. It’s six nine-pixel displays on the faces of a cube, powered by a battery, and controlled by an accelerometer. Yes, it is by far the most complicated die ever made, but it does look cool.

Homemade Liquid Nitrogen


As far as DIY cryogenics are concerned, dry ice is easy mode. You can get frozen carbon dioxide at WalMart, or from a nozzle that screws onto a CO2 tank. It’s all very ordinary, and not really special at all. Want to know what’s cool? Making liquid nitrogen at home.

[imsmooth] is getting his nitrogen from a standard tank, sending the gas through a CO2 and H2O scrubber, compressing it, putting the compressed gas in an ice bath, and slowly diffusing the compressed, cooled gas into a vacuum reservoir. When the cold compressed gas is released into the reservoir, Boyle’s law happens and liquid nitrogen condenses in a flask.

As far as materials and equipment are concerned, [imsmooth] is using a PVC tower filled with zeolite to filter out the CO2 and H2O, a SCUBA compressor (no oil), and an almost absurd amount of stainless steel tubing for the precooler and regenerative cooling tower. Except for a few expensive valves, dewar, and the SCUBA compressor, it’s all stuff you could easily scrounge up from the usual home improvement stores.

[imsmooth] is producing about 350cc/hr of liquid nitrogen,  or more than enough for anyone who isn’t running an industrial process in their garage. Check out the video of the build below.

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Recycling Plastic With Liquid Nitrogen


Recycling 3D printer filament isn’t a new idea, and in fact there are quite a few devices out there that will take chunks ABS, PLA, or just about any other thermoplastic and turn them into printer filament. The problem comes when someone mentions recycling plastic parts and turning them into filament ready to be used again. Plastics can only be recycled so many times, and there’s also the problem of grinding up your octopodes and companion cubes into something a filament extruder will accept.

The solution, it appears, is to freeze the plastic parts to be recycled before grinding them up. Chopping up plastic parts at room temperature imparts a lot of energy into the plastic before breaking. Freezing the parts to below their brittle transition temperature means the resulting chips will have clean cuts, something much more amenable to the mechanics of filament extruders.

The setup for this experiment consisted of cooling PLA plastic with liquid nitrogen and putting the frozen parts in a cheap, As Seen On TV blender. The resulting chips were smaller than the plastic pellets found in injection molding manufacturing plants, but will feed into the extruder well enough.

Liquid nitrogen might be overkill in this case; the goal is to cool the plastic down below its brittle transition temperature, which for most plastics is about -40° (420° R). Dry ice will do the job just as well, and is also available at most Walmarts.


Liquid nitrogen (finally) makes an Arduino project cool

At $1.5 a liter in Moscow, [Michail] couldn’t resist buying some liquid nitrogen for himself. He thought that because Arduinos were quite popular among geeks, he’d try to overclock one while bringing its temperature down to -196°C/-320°F.

To check the ATmega was still working correctly, [Michail] designed several stability tests: SRAM read/write, flash read, arithmetic math and program flow tests (code with some conditionals). He used a standard HD44780 LCD to view the tests results but also an LED, blinking the number of the test it would have failed. The Arduino was externally clocked by a TTL-logic based square signal generator he designed, which can produce a clock between 16 and 100MHz. It turns out that you can run an Arduino at 65.3MHz when it is cooled with liquid nitrogen!

[Michail]’s article also explains what happens to the different on-board components when cooled with LN2: electrolytic capacitors becomes virtually non-existent, X7R capacitors’ impedance drop by 2/3, silicon diodes voltage drop increase by 50% and LED’s colors change. Check out the video below:

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Dropping the nitrogen bomb in science class

We took Geology in college. It was pretty cool learning about the hardness of different minerals. But there were no explosions involved. We’re not entirely sure what this class is, perhaps Chemistry, maybe Physics, but we want in. [Dr. Roy Lowry] wows the class with a bomb made of liquid nitrogen. The demonstration was part of his lecture at Plymouth University.

A small explosion is cool, but [Roy] knows how to add the wow factor. To make the bomb he filled a one liter plastic bottle about 1/3 of the way with liquid nitrogen. After tightly sealing the cap it was dropped in that garbage can which had a pool of warm water in it. Before quickly running away he and his assistant dumped a few garbage bags of ping-pong balls on top of it all. When the plastic bottle bursts under the pressure of the expanding gas it sends the garbage can about six feet into the air and floods the room with bouncing white balls. See the whole presentation for yourself in the clip after the break and don’t forget the sound so you can catch the oohs and aahs at the end.

Looks like a Hackerspace recruitment tool if we’ve ever seen one.

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