Low-Cost Superconducting Wire for Wind Generators

University of Houston
High-Performance, Low-Cost Superconducting Wires and Coils for High Power Wind Generators
Image of Houston's technology
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,986,375
Location: 
Houston, TX
Project Term: 
02/22/2012 to 12/31/2014
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Critical Need: 
Rare earths are naturally occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties that are used in electric vehicle (EV) motors and wind generators. Because these minerals are expensive and in limited supply, alternative technologies must be developed to replace rare-earth-based magnets in motors and generators. Alternatives to rare earths will contribute to the cost-effectiveness of EVs and wind generators, facilitating their widespread use and drastically reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
The University of Houston is developing a low-cost, high-current superconducting wire that could be used in high-power wind generators. Superconducting wire currently transports 600 times more electric current than a similarly sized copper wire, but is significantly more expensive. The University of Houston's innovation is based on engineering nanoscale defects in the superconducting film. This could quadruple the current relative to today's superconducting wires, supporting the same amount of current using 25% of the material. This would make wind generators lighter, more powerful and more efficient. The design could result in a several-fold reduction in wire costs and enable their commercial viability of high-power wind generators for use in offshore applications.
Impact Summary: 
If successful, the University of Houston's project would quadruple the performance of superconducting wire in wind generators, greatly reduce its cost and promote wind power as a cost-effective alternative to coal-fired electricity.
Security: 
The U.S. produces a small fraction globally of industrial rare earths. Developing alternatives to the use of rare earths has the potential to reduce our dependence on these materials and will have a positive impact on our national economic and energy security.
Environment: 
Cost-effective superconducting wire would enable widespread use of wind power and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal power, which produces 20% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Economy: 
The average American spends nearly $4,000 each year on energy. Encouraging renewable alternatives to traditional sources of energy would diversify our energy portfolio and save consumers money in the long run.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Patrick McGrath
Project Contact: 
Prof. Venkat Selvamanickam
Partners
SuperPower
Tai-Yang Research
TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company
National Renewable Energy Laboratory