As Superconductors Warm Up, So Does Interest

A promising material for creating superconductive wire has been made more so by scientists investigating different manufacturing processes. The result could be less expensive equipment, like generators and magnetic resonance imaging machines (MRIs), which use the technology, the researchers say. The material, magnesium diboride (MgB2), was first discovered to have superconductive characteristic...

By Staff March 1, 2004

A promising material for creating superconductive wire has been made more so by scientists investigating different manufacturing processes. The result could be less expensive equipment, like generators and magnetic resonance imaging machines (MRIs), which use the technology, the researchers say.

The material, magnesium diboride (MgB2), was first discovered to have superconductive characteristics in 2001, and its relatively lower cost compared to superconductors raised research interest. However, as initially fabricated, its performance fell short of what most applications required. The material’s porosity kept current-density levels too low.

Now, though, a team with members from both Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of California, San Diego say they’ve raised performance to acceptable levels through a manufacturing process called hot isostatic pressing. This process reduces porosity and increases MgB2’s ability to carry current by 45% over wires produced using more traditional methods. Higher carrying capacity means manufacturers could cut wire gauge without risking equipment performance.

These researchers focused on MRI applications, suggesting that superconductive-wire costs for this equipment could be $1 to $2 per kiloampere, versus the current $3 to $10 figure. In addition, they added, MgB2 wire can operate at a temperature of 25

Another superconducting advance just reaching the marketplace could help improve transmission and distribution system reliability. The SuperVARâ„¢ synchronous condenser developed by American Superconductor Corp. was named 2003’s “Most Promising Pre-Commercial Technology,” at December’s fifth annual Platts Global Energy Awards.

According to the manufacturer, the product uses high-temperature superconductor technology to dynamically stabilize grid voltage. The units are able to generate or absorb reactive power based on the transmission system’s existing conditions. They also respond to sudden voltage transients, which can be caused by lightning or adjacent trees.

No longer “pre-commercial,” the product was shipped to its first customer, the Tennessee Valley Authority, in November.