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Joule Physics Laboratory    

Date added: Apr 22, 2009

Superconductivity and the Energy Crisis. Seminar on 30 April 2009

Seminar Title

Enhancing the properties of high-temperature superconductors for industrial breakthrough: a cohesive, scientifically sound approach to tackling the energy crisis

Dr Stuart Wimbush

Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, Department of Materials Science, University of Cambridge

2.00pm to 3.00pm

Thursday 30 April 2009

Newton 239

Dr Stuart Wimbush


The 'energy crisis' in all its guises could well be described as the greatest research challenge of our age, of critical importance to our continued technological and industrial development and prosperity, and indeed ultimately to our survival. In every aspect of the energy cycle (production, storage, distribution, and utilisation) superconducting technologies have a role to play. Whether in generators for wind turbines or magnet coils for fusion reactors, superconducting materials will be essential integral components of our future sustainable energy sources.

In the superconducting magnetic energy storage systems that can be used to effectively store the energy produced until it is needed; in the superconducting power cables, transformers, fault current limiters and reactive load balancing devices that will ensure efficiency of distribution from remote sources such as sea-based wind farms and desert-based solar farms, and even enable a truly unified national grid system across the vast expanse of the continental US, directing power where it is needed and avoiding waste where it is not; and in superconducting motors to revolutionise shipping and aircraft, improving the sustainability of the global economy and global business that modern society has grown to rely upon; in all these areas, superconducting technology is the key enabling component.

I shall describe three aspects of our work in Cambridge endeavouring to enhance the properties of the second generation high temperature superconductor yttrium barium copper oxide, which forms our present best candidate material for many of the applications mentioned. Firstly, I shall outline the 'film thickness issue' and the limitations it places on industrial coated conductors. Then I shall describe the work we are pursuing to enhance the critical current density of the base material by defect engineering, firstly through the incorporation of a new series of vortex core pinning additions, the rare earth tantalates, and then through the first successful incorporation of magnetic pinning centres based on rare earth orthoferrites.

In both cases, I shall demonstrate an enhancement in the absolute critical current density of the doped material in excess of a factor two over an unadulterated sample. The initial results obtained are already at the upper bound of those observed worldwide to date, and I shall conclude with some comments on how the two approaches might be combined in order to realise the distinct advantages of both.

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