What Will Superconductivity Bring to Cleantech in 2006?

In 1986, high temperature superconductors (HTS) were discovered, capable of conducting electricity with zero resistance at a relatively warm -196 Celsius (-321 Fahrenheit). This presented the possibility of developing new generation of devices employing the extraordinary properties of superconductors using inexpensive liquid nitrogen as a coolant.

Since then, efforts around the world have worked to develop HTS wires and other materials for use in a host of devices for electric power systems, including: superconducting power cables, fault current limiters, flywheel energy storage devices, magnetic energy storage devices, transformers, motors, generators, and more.

The promise of such technologies devices is vast.

In the U.S., HTS is hoped to provide grid stabilization solutions that reduce costs and inefficiencies in downstream transmission and distribution infrastructure, facilitate bringing online fluctuating renewable resources such as wind and solar energy, and extend the life of an aging grid by delivering more power more efficiently. Outside the U.S., in addition to these benefits, HTS is also seen as an important technology to help reduce greenhouse gases emissions.

Driving the effort to realize the potential of HTS, venture capitalists, public shareholders, and government programs have poured countless millions into HTS R&D, yet commercial success has proven slow to materialize. Nonetheless, there are important indications of progress: more and more organizations are working to produce HTS wires, and major demonstration projects are underway around the world.

The key to understanding the status R&D in HTS power applications is to track all the technologies involved, including cryogenic refrigeration, dielectrics, and superconducting materials. In addition, because no single country dominates in HTS R&D, the effort must be viewed globally. Two decades after the discovery of HTS, 2006 is sure to bring some exciting new advances. It will also bring the achievements of last year into greater perspective.

Mark Bitterman
Editor, Superconductor Week

Mark Bitterman is the Executive Editor of Superconductor Week, the most comprehensive and widely read newsletter covering the technology and commercialization of superconductors. Original reporting, exclusive interviews, and expert analysis spans low- and high-temperature superconductors in small- and large-scale applications, from the proven growth of the MRI industry to the anticipated revolution of advanced power devices, from recent success in all-digital RF receivers to key advances in cryocoolers.

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