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This project ended in Sep 2020 and is now closed.Dismiss

PCB Sniffer

Funding mechanismNetwork Innovation Allowance (NIA)
DurationSep 2019 - Sep 2020
Project expenditure£110k
Research areaNew Technologies and Commercial Evolution
  • November 2020

    PCB Sniffer has been completed, with the submission of the final report from the National Physical Laboratory. It has been concluded that the only positive t…


The objective of the project is to develop and trial in a laboratory environment a solution to non-intrusively identifying PCBs in overhead assets, principally oil-filled transformers.


Proposed changes to European Regulations on Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have the potential to require all UK DNOs to test or replace all of their pre-1987, potentially contaminated, oil-filled assets (the vast majority of which are transformers) by 2025. Some of these assets were non-intentionally contaminated with PCBs before the Stockholm Convention banned their use in 1987 (The ‘Stockholm Convention’ is an international environmental treaty that aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants). This could be in excess of 300,000 pole mounted and ground mounted items across the UK, of which around 94,000 are owned and operated by WPD. Whilst the related ground mounted items could be tested in situ without considerable cost and inconvenience, the vast majority of the 300,000 items are pole mounted and essentially inaccessible.

Most UK DNOs use simple “Clor-N-Oil” test kits to sample a small quantity of oil for the presence of the chlorine within the PCB. This test removes the chloride from the PCB parent molecule which can then be calorimetrically determined. However, nothing is available to test live equipment either by accessing the oil or by testing vapours/emissions from the overhead equipment.

The ENA has calculated that replacement of all potentially contaminated items before 2025 could cost up to £1.8bn. Whilst transformer manufacturers have indicated that they could likely not meet the demand required by such a programme.


The project will consist of the following elements:

1) A Paper Study to capture the state of the art learning in relation to the problem of optical spectroscopic detection and quantification of PCB molecules.

2) Laboratory measurements of some of the main PCB sub-elements to enable the provision of robust estimates of detection sensitivity of optical spectroscopic methods. This activity will be required only if the high-resolution spectroscopic data of PCB are too scarce or non-existent. The output of the activity 1) will inform the decision on activity 2).

3) Assuming spectroscopic data a model will be developed of the detection instrument and detection scenario to understand the prospects and limitations of various approaches and down-select the best solution given cost, timescale, performance and operational constraints in a laboratory environment.