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The article referenced is in the Science Section of today's New York Times. I tried to submit it here as a news post, but the part I wanted to include was too long. I've copied here the first few paragraphs of the long article which included the history of superconducting. As you can see, it was centered on The Detroit Project, since that is considered news worthy. Then I have also included excerpts from the last part, after the history.

Yurek is quoted only briefly, but American Superconductor is the only company mentioned until the continuance on the 2nd page. It is given quite a bit of press.


May 29, 2001

High-Temperature Superconductors Find a Variety of Uses


Fifteen years after their discovery, high-temperature superconductors have not come close to the most grandiose projections for their use, like high-speed trains levitated by superconducting magnets.

But the materials, which are able to carry electricity with virtually no resistance at relatively warm temperatures, have found useful niches in the real world.

This month, workers pulled out nine cables from underground conduits at a Detroit power substation so that they could be replaced by the first high-temperature superconductor cables in a working power grid. The three new cables contain only 250 pounds of superconductor, yet they will be able to carry just as much current as the 18,000 pounds of copper in the nine cables they replace. Swapping copper cables for superconducting ones within existing conduits could allow utilities to triple their power capacity without disruptive digging.

High-temperature superconductors are already used to improve signal reception in cell phone towers and for sensitive magnetic probes in scientific equipment. Efficient electric motors may be next.

Engineers have developed these uses even while physicists remain unable to explain why high-temperature superconductors are superconductors at all.

"We don't understand the physics, the mechanism," said Dr. Greg Yurek, chief executive of American Superconductor Corporation of Westborough, Mass., one of the companies involved in the Detroit project. "Yet it works. It's there."

This is where the history of superconducting and explanations of why they think it works are included. Then the article returns to AMSC.

Officials at American Superconductor forecast that a market for its superconducting wire, to be used for cables and electric motors, will open up over the next few years.

The company now manufactures about 300 miles of superconducting wire a year. When a new factory in Devens, Mass., starts production next year, it will make 6,000 miles of wire annually. Coils of the wire will be used in a prototype of a 5,000- horsepower ship propulsion electric motor that American Superconductor is building for the Navy this summer. With the higher current capacity of superconductors, the size and weight of the motors can be shrunk by half or more.

Pirelli Cables and Systems of Milan assembled the American Superconductor wires to the power cables used in the Detroit Edison project.

The 4-inch-wide power cables will snake 400 feet through underground conduits, including a couple of 90- degree bends, from a transformer to power distribution equipment inside the substation building.

The $13.9 million project, financed in part by the Department of Energy, will be a significant test of the technologies that have been developed to transform high temperature superconductors, which are by nature brittle and stiff, into flexible wires. Liquid nitrogen will run through the center of the cables to keep them chilled at minus-337 degrees.

The power lines will undergo a year of testing before going into service, supplying electricity to 14,000 customers.

The idea of superconducting power lines goes back decades, but until recent advances, has been too costly to be practical.

The next section of the article gives the history of tests, such as the one in a power grid in Austria in the 1970's. Dr. Paul Grant, science fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute, speaks of the Brookhaven Project in the 1980's. This project at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island tested two 430-foot superconducting transmission cables made of niobium-tin, a low-temperature superconductor, and was "a technical success but an economic disaster." The test did, however, give important data on AC losses.

With high-temperature superconductors, the cooling costs are greatly reduced, but because of the AC losses, the superconducting cables in the Detroit Edison project will not save any energy compared with the old copper cables.

Superconducting cables cost several times as much as copper ones, but because they carry much more current, they could still find use in urban areas where digging up streets to put in new conduits would be costly. Detroit Edison is not the only utility interested in the technology. "The planners are beginning to look around and think about where they may have similar situations," Dr. Grant said.

The last part of the article connects the Detroit Project and superconducting cables with the opportunities open through the current administration's energy proposals.

The Bush administration's energy policy recommends expanding research in superconducting power lines.

To reap the full benefits of superconductivity in long-distance transmission lines, Dr. Grant proposes that they carry direct current, where electricity flows constantly in one direction, instead of alternating current. That eliminates the AC losses, and the current can flow over long distances virtually without any energy loss.

"There's a window of opportunity coming for renewing America's power infrastructures," Dr. Grant said. "If we're not ready for it, we're going to miss the boat. I think it's going to be a race whether we have this technology cheap enough to capture a lot of this opportunity."

Now we'll see whether American Superconductor can live up to its own hype. The opportunity is there and with the new plant readying for production. I believe American Superconductor is in the best position to seize that opportunity in the next few years. Success rides upon the question of whether the production of HTS Wire can be made affordable and cost efficient.


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