Superconductor Advance Promises New Batteries, Transmission

March 13, 2023

Wall Street Journal:

U.S. scientists say they have produced the first commercially accessible material that eliminates the loss of energy as electricity moves along a wire, a breakthrough that could mean longer-lasting batteries, more-efficient power grids and improved high-speed trains.

Materials that can conduct electric currents without any loss—so-called superconductors—have been wildly impractical because they typically need to be extremely cooled, to around minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit, and subjected to extreme pressure to work.

Now, a group of researchers at the University of Rochester report that they have created a new superconductor that can operate at room temperature and a much lower pressure than previously discovered superconducting materials.

The breakthrough has the potential to create lossless electrical grids, and better and cheaper magnets for use in future nuclear fusion reactors, among other things, according to Ranga Dias, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and physics at the University of Rochester, who led the breakthrough work. That is because perfect conductors that work in everyday, ambient conditions don’t require expensive, large cooling systems. 

“We could magnetically levitate trains above superconducting rails, change the way electricity is stored and transferred, and revolutionize medical imaging,” Dr. Dias said. 

Superconductors demonstrate what physicists call the Meissner effect, when a material expels its magnetic field. If you put a superconductor near a magnet, it will levitate, he added.

In 2020, his group reported that they had created a superconductor made up of a hydrogen, sulfur and carbon combination that operated at roughly room temperature. The catch was it only worked after being baked by a laser and crushed between the tips of two diamonds to a pressure greater than that found in the center of the Earth, in a device known as a diamond anvil cell.

For the new study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the researchers tweaked their superconductor recipe—adding nitrogen and a rare-earth metal known as lutetium to the hydrogen instead of sulfur and carbon—and once again heated and squeezed it in the diamond anvil cell.

They named the resulting material “reddmatter,” after observing how the material’s hue changed from blue to pink to red as it got compressed. The moniker, Dr. Dias said, was inspired by the fictional, black hole-forming substance from the 2009 Hollywood blockbuster ‘Star Trek.’ 

The Rochester lab found that “reddmatter” could exist at 69 degrees Fahrenheit and 145,000 pounds per square inch, or psi, of pressure—about 1/360th of the pressure in Earth’s core. That is about a 10-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature and a drop to about 1/1000th of pressure compared with its predecessor from 2020.

“These results are a breakthrough for the scientific community that was enabled by [Dr. Dias’s] keen chemical intuition,” said Stanley Tozer, a research scientist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University in Tallahassee, who wasn’t involved in the research.

While still a far cry from the pressure people experience at sea level—which is about 15 psi—the new pressure is within “a range where engineers can jump on and make a commercially viable product,” Dr. Tozer said, adding, “it just makes superconductivity commercially accessible.” Engineers and material scientists can achieve pressures around 145,000 psi using specialized techniques and instruments involved in chip manufacturing and synthesizing diamonds, for instance.


7 Responses to “Superconductor Advance Promises New Batteries, Transmission”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Or does it ????????

    “If Ranga Dias of the University of Rochester, New York, and his team have observed room-temperature (294 K), near-ambient pressure superconductivity, their discovery could rank among the greatest scientific advances of the 21st century (see Research News: Muted Response to New Claim of a Room-Temperature Superconductor). Such a breakthrough would mark a significant step toward a future where room-temperature superconductors transform the power grid, computer processors, and diagnostic tools in medicine.

    But for the past three years, the Rochester team—and Dias in particular—has been shrouded in allegations of scientific misconduct after other researchers raised questions about their 2020 claim of room-temperature superconductivity . ”

  2. talies Says:

    And what about data centres?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Data centres, with their small controlled environments, seem like the only plausible application for this. Countryside-crossing cables and outdoor trains would have to stick with cheap and simple traditional conductors.

  3. neilrieck Says:

    Like the cold-fusion claim 30 years ago, this work will need to be verified, or falsified, by other scientists. Additionally, this substance is a solid semiconductor so could never be used to replace flexible wires which makes me think that much of this hype came from the Wall Street Journal.

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