Souped-up superconductors

Brookhaven scientists used this pulsed-laser deposition system to create superconducting thin films.
Date:14 May 2013 Tags:, ,

A power system is only as good as the wires that transmit its electricity. American researchers are inching closer towards the long-standing goal of creating usable super-conducting wire.

At Brookhaven National Laboratory, scientists used a superconducting wire to transmit a record-setting current of 200 000 amps per square centimetre (researchers point out that household circuits often blow at just 20 amps). The test, which required supercooling to minus 253 degrees Celsius, was a key breakthrough in the development of ironbased superconductors, an alternative to existing copper-based wire.

Researchers aren’t yet sure why the iron-based prototype works so well, but they do know that superconducting wire can transmit electricity with virtually no losses, making it an ideal fit for next-generation grid technologies. One of those could be wind turbines, the focus of superconductor researchers at the University of Houston.

Today’s turbines rely on rare-earth magnets to generate electricity. Researchers are developing magnets made of coiled superconducting wire to replace the current crop of magnets. The wire can already transport about 600 times more electric current than copper wire of the same diameter, but researchers need to improve that by another 400 per cent to make the superconducting turbines practical. AH