Power cables light the future path of superconductivity

Apr 01, 2011
Power cables light the future path of superconductivity

One hundred years ago this month, superconductivity was discovered in the lab of Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. Since then many more materials have shown to be superconducting, providing new applications and creating a new realm of physics.

In honour of this discovery, the April issue of is dedicated to the discovery and features a run-down of the top five applications of , written by Paul Michael Grant from W2AGZ Technologies, San Jose, California.

Topping Grant’s list are superconducting wires, and in particular a high-temperature tape made from yttrium-barium-copper-oxide (YBCO). YBCO, which superconducts when cooled with liquid nitrogen, has some remarkable properties - despite being hard and brittle, it can be made into batches thousands of metres long.

YBCO could be used for superconducting power cables, carrying electricity without any power loss, which is a big problem for conventional copper cables. The US Department of Energy has in fact just completed a 20-year programme in this field and as Grant writes: “Its fruits are now on the shelf, waiting to be harvested by the utility industry and its suppliers.”

In second place, Grant highlights the application of superconductivity to medical imaging, where superconducting magnets are essential components of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners. He also highlights a technique that uses superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) to detect the tiny magnetic fields generated by the very small currents in the heart and brain.

Third place is taken up by the application of superconductivity to high-energy physics, more specifically in the magnets that bend protons around at particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.

Grant’s penultimate application of superconductivity is its ability to produce lighter, smaller and more efficient generators by allowing the required iron core of electromagnets to be removed.

Finally, Grant sheds light on how superconductivity can aid the search for dark matter, which, if discovered, could lead a budding researcher to a Nobel Prize for Physics.

One notable omission from the list is magnetically levitated (maglev) trains. These trains, which are suspended and guided above a track by a large number of magnets, have captured the imagination of the public and could hold the key to faster, quieter, and smoother transport in the future.

As of yet, however, every maglev train that has ever been built, barring a train used on a test line in Japan, has used conventional, albeit powerful, iron-core electromagnets.

Explore further: Finding the 'heart' of an obstacle to superconductivity

Related Stories

Secrets behind high temperature superconductors revealed

Feb 22, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) have found evidence that magnetism is involved in the mechanism behind high temperature superconductivity.

New World Record For Superconducting Magnet Set

Aug 07, 2007

A collaboration between the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University and industry partner SuperPower Inc. has led to a new world record for a magnetic field created by a superconducting magnet.

Strain Has Major Effect on High-Temp Superconductors

Feb 15, 2007

Just a little mechanical strain can cause a large drop in the maximum current carried by high-temperature superconductors, according to novel measurements carried out by the National Institute of Standards ...

Race for Superconductors Shrinks to Nanoscale

Oct 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of researchers from UT Dallas, Clemson University and Yale University are using science on the nanoscale to address one of the most elusive challenges in physics - the discovery of ...

NIST debuts online museum of quantum voltage standards

Mar 31, 2011

On April 8, 2011, the scientific community will celebrate the centennial of the discovery of superconductivity—the ability of certain materials to conduct electricity without resistance when cooled below ...

Magnet Lab to Investigate Promising Superconductor

Oct 13, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Applied Superconductivity Center at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory has received $1.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to understand and enhance a new form of superconducting ...

Recommended for you

New approach to form non-equilibrium structures

16 hours ago

Although most natural and synthetic processes prefer to settle into equilibrium—a state of unchanging balance without potential or energy—it is within the realm of non-equilibrium conditions where new possibilities lie. ...

Nike krypton laser achieves spot in Guinness World Records

18 hours ago

A set of experiments conducted on the Nike krypton fluoride (KrF) laser at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) nearly five years ago has, at long last, earned the coveted Guinness World Records title for achieving "Highest ...

Unleashing the power of quantum dot triplets

22 hours ago

Quantum computers have yet to materialise. Yet, scientists are making progress in devising suitable means of making such computers faster. One such approach relies on quantum dots—a kind of artificial atom, ...

Chemist develops X-ray vision for quality assurance

22 hours ago

It is seldom sufficient to read the declaration of contents if you need to know precisely what substances a product contains. In fact, to do this you need to be a highly skilled chemist or to have genuine ...

The future of ultrashort laser pulses

22 hours ago

Rapid advances in techniques for the creation of ultra-short laser pulses promise to boost our knowledge of electron motions to an unprecedented level.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eikka
not rated yet Apr 02, 2011
A transition to a DC grid would be in order before you can make proper use out of superconducting cables, because much of the losses at long distances are actually due to AC coupling with the ground. The cable leaks power through the alternating electric field around it.
El_Nose
not rated yet Apr 16, 2011
I was thinking it was actually the resistance over the powerlines grows with distance and that the cummlative effect of no resistance for power transmission would be significant.