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August 30, 2006

Superconducting coil good enough for 36.5 MW ship engine

American Superconductor Corp. reported it has achieved levels of magnetic, electrical, thermal and mechanical performance required for commercial electromagnetic coils utilizing its proprietary second generation (2G) high temperature superconductor (HTS) wire.

Tests showed that 348 superconductors with today's performance levels can already be utilized to produce a 36.5-MW (almost 50,000 hp) high-temperature semiconductor ship propulsion motor able to operate at 38 degrees Kelvin—eight degrees higher than the operating temperature of the 36.5-MW ship propulsion motor that American Semiconductor is shipping to the U.S. Navy that utilizes the company's 1G HTS wire.

The advantages of a superconductor enhanced engine versus a conventional engine:
are 1/3 of the weight (69 tons instead of 200 tons)
1/2 the size
Up to 10% more fuel efficient at low speed

Specification sheet on the superconductor enhanced engines

The progress made over the last few decades with superconductors has been made without a solid and detailed theory of how superconductors exactly work. I think there will be substantial growth in our understanding of condensed matter physics over the next few years. This will come from the availability of new quantum computers for better accurate simulations of electrons and atoms and from new tools for more accurate measurements. The understanding of shortcomings in our current knowledge are shown by the development of entirely new areas of study such as in metamaterials.

Further Reading:
The factors that combine with a mechanism--known as the competing order--that lowers a superconductor's critical temperature in materials with more than three layers. That "competing order," in turn, is dependent on an uneven distribution of electrons, resulting in a charge imbalance between the material's multiple layers. Kee and her colleagues are the first group to put these three factors--the tunnelling, the competing order and the charge imbalance--together. If they can find a way to affect the charge imbalance, they could suppress the competing order and develop superconducting materials with higher and higher critical temperatures.

Understanding the mechanism for superconductivity

A paper (pdf) that proposes a design for a room temperature superconductor

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