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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: 
$4,035,316
Location: 
Houston, TX
Project Term: 
01/01/2012 to 06/30/2015
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
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.

Potential Impact: 

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.

Innovation Update: 

(As of August 2016)
As part of the ARPA-E award, the University of Houston (UH) team collaborated with SuperPower to develop a high-performance superconducting wire. SuperPower has successfully implemented many of the innovations developed under the ARPA-E award into their mainline commercial production, resulting in a doubling of critical current (IC) over pre-program wire. SuperPower has continued to improve their wire and plans another 50% improvement based on the technology developed under their ARPA-E award by 2017. Commercial wire from SuperPower has been purchased by early adopters.

The UH-led team built on SuperPower’s chemical vapor deposition (CVD) approach to epitaxial growth of Rare earth Element Barium Copper Oxide, or (RE)BCO, to introduce flux pinning centers in the form of BaZrO3 nanocolumns. The team also developed process improvements to enable the deposition of thicker films without degradation of crystal quality or discontinuities in the nanocolumns. With the combination of increased flux pinning centers in nanocolumns and high-quality films through the improved process conditions, the team achieved great than 4 times improvement in critical current at production thickness, resulting in a record critical current density for flux-pinning high temperature superconductor material. The UH team further demonstrated a greater than 6 times improvement over their previous product for their standard 12mm width wire.

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


Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Patrick McGrath
Project Contact: 
Prof. Venkat Selvamanickam
Partners
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company
Tai-Yang Research Company
SuperPower, Inc.
Release Date: 
9/29/2011