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Improved Superconducting Wire for Wind Generators

Brookhaven National Laboratory
ARPA-E Award: 
Upton , NY
Project Term: 
01/01/2012 to 03/31/2016
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Image of Brookhaven's technology
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: 

Brookhaven National Laboratory is developing a low-cost 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. Brookhaven National Laboratory will develop a high-performance superconducting wire that can handle significantly more electrical current, and will demonstrate an advanced manufacturing process that has the potential to yield a several-fold reduction in wire costs while using a using negligible amount of rare earth material. This design has the potential to make a wind turbine generator lighter, more powerful, and more efficient, particularly for offshore applications.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, Brookhaven National Laboratory's superconducting wire would make wind generators practical for widespread deployment and result in the substantial reduction of greenhouse gases by positioning wind as a viable alternative to coal-powered electricity.


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.


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.


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.

Innovation Update: 

(As of August 2016)
Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and project team member American Superconductors (AMSC) have developed a high-performance superconducting wire. AMSC has successfully implemented many of the innovations developed under their ARPA-E award into their mainline commercial production, completing upgrades to production line equipment that have resulted in a 2 times improvement in critical current (IC) over pre-program wire. In March 2016, AMSC formed a strategic partnership with BASF to reduce manufacturing costs of its high temperature superconductor (HTS) wire. Success of this program and BASF’s involvement are expected to accelerate acceptance of HTS wire in both cable and coil based HTS applications.

The BNL and AMSC team combined two approaches in engineering their Rare earth Element Barium Copper Oxide, or (RE)BCO, wire. The first approach leveraged nanoscale derivative phases and defects formed during the growth of AMSC’s metal organic deposited (MOD) (RE)BCO film and successfully doubled the critical current. The second approach introduced additional defects through bombardment with high-energy ions. The team optimized the ion bombardment currents and again doubled the critical current. By the end of its ARPA-E project, the BNL/AMSC team demonstrated a critical current of greater than 1,600 A at 10mm of wire width for the operation conditions of their machine design, which represents a greater than 4 times improvement over the 4,009 A/cm width at the program start.

For a detailed assessment of the Brookhaven team's project and impact, please click here.

ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Patrick McGrath
Project Contact: 
Dr. Qiang Li
American Superconductor
Release Date: