Superconductors Are Near Room Temperature But UHV Lines are Better for the Grid

It has been over 30 years since the discovery of the first high-temperature superconductor. The first high-temperature superconductor was 30 degrees about absolute zero. There was a flurry of work and the critical temperature reached -135 Celsius (138 Kelvin). The progress on improving the temperature at which the materials could work stalled for decades.

There was a lot of effort to work with the materials which tended to be fragile and tricky to use.

There was still progress made on using them to do what was impossible without them. Magnets could be made far more powerful using them than without them. Magnets can be made three times or even four times stronger. This means more powerful particle accelerators. Some are trying to use the more powerful magnets for smaller nuclear fusion designs and reactors.

The dream of room temperature superconductors means that expensive refrigeration would not be needed for lossless energy and magnetic applications. Cooling to extreme temperatures is insanely expensive using helium. It is still expensive but more reasonable using nitrogen. The first high-temperature superconductors moved the situation from helium to nitrogen. A step better than nitrogen is regular refrigerators and cooling which are usually freon based. Room temperature means no refrigeration at all.

This new work could get to regular refrigerator temperatures using freon.

Arxiv – Superconductivity at 250 K in lanthanum hydride under high pressures

However, there is a catch. The material has to be at 1.7 million atmospheres of pressure.

This material tries to make the refrigeration problem better but needs to be squeezed between diamond anvils.

The hope would be that as we figure out the structure of what works under high pressure then the chemists can work at finding a different recipe that keeps the warm superconducting and gets rid of the high-pressure restriction.

Room temperature superconductors area way to get super technology. Super-efficient powerful magnets can make flying cars, better high-speed trains, nuclear fusion and other super technology.

Grids Can Be Built Without Energy Loss. Now. Not Decades From Now.

One major application that has been part of the room temperature superconducting dream is transmitting electricity without power loss.

Current electrical grids can lose up to half their energy because of power loss moving the electricity from power plant to your home.

Ultra-high voltage energy grids are needed for efficient power transmission across large distances. These are being deployed at continental scale by China. The highest voltages can transmit electricity 99.8% without energy loss over 100 miles of distance. They exist and being built over thousands of miles and can transmit the power of 200 nuclear reactors. How long until superconductors approach this scale? Would superconductor handling problems be worth the 0.2% or less of future UHV lines?

A 100 mile (160 km) power line at 765 kilovolt carrying 1000 MW of power can have losses of 1.1% to 0.5%. A 345-kilovolt line carrying the same load across the same distance has losses of 4.2%. China’s 1.1 megavolt line can have power losses that 10 to 20 times less than 345 kilovolt lines.

1.1 megavolt transformer

ABB helped create the 1.1 megavolt transformers and key equipment for world’s first 1,100 kilovolt (kV) project in China.

When fully operational the UHVDC link will be capable of transporting 12,000 megawatts of electricity over a distance of 3,000 km from the Xinjiang region in the Northwest, to Anhui province in eastern China. This vast amount of electricity is equivalent to twice the average annual power consumption of Switzerland.

Asia Super-grid

China’s State Grid company switched on its first million-volt alternating current line in 2009 and the world’s inaugural 800,000-volt direct current line in 2010. State Grid is now by far the world’s biggest builder of these lines. By the end of 2017, 21 ultra-high-voltage lines had been completed in the country, with four more under construction.

If the world wants to move energy around on a continental scale then ultra-high voltage grids are needed.

China’s high voltage grid will be nearly 23,000 miles long. It will be able to deliver about 150 gigawatts of electricity. This is roughly the output of 150 nuclear reactors.

At the end of 2017, China had invested least 400 billion yuan ($57 billion) into the projects. In September, China said it will sign off on 12 new ultra-high-voltage projects by the end of 2019.

23 thoughts on “Superconductors Are Near Room Temperature But UHV Lines are Better for the Grid”

  1. ~1% CNT’s in aluminum decrease resistance to about that of copper. That’s the only way I see CNT’s being used for long-distance electrical transmission.

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  2. It would be efficient, granted. And they are already pretty economically dependent, sure. But saying “Russia” is pretty much the same thing as saying Putin, and saying “China” is pretty much the same thing as saying Xi.

    And I just can’t imagine any reasoning person or persons (with any say in the matter) giving either one of these guys (seriously consider some of the things they’ve done and still condone) a switch which could cut almost all power to their entire, country, essentially sending them back in time hundreds of years in a heartbeat.

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  3. Gee, and I thought saying “Russia” and “China” was a lot more politic, if no more accurate, than saying Putin and Xi. Although it has something that is often embarrassing and loud, the US has nothing to compare against the actions of these two self-declared tyrants-for-life, even if there were genuine malice aforethought, it just doesn’t reach the same order of magnitude.

    Also, I see a lot of Russians and Chinese desperate to emigrate to the US (or Canada, a very similar place in most regards, at least by comparison with Russia and China). Even the privileged few, like Meng Wanzhou, seem to have bugout plans in place to make a quick switch when deemed expedient. I see few to none that seem eager to emigrate from the US to Russia or China. That alone says a lot.

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  4. Scaling up CNTs is a lot more difficult than many people realize. For power transmission you’ll want all of them to be very specific chirality, some minimum length per nanotube (probably the longer, the better, which is hard), and with as few defects as possible (even harder, especially with long nanotubes; more so the longer you want them). All of that is on top of needing to make many thousands of tons of the stuff, which is already hard enough without these extra requirements.

    You say “once we get a handle of this technology”, but that can easily take decades. And no, it won’t be cheap at first. The price will take a while to come down after we figure out the scaling issues. Who knows, we might get lucky and figure out room-temperature superconductors before that happens.

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  5. badly behaved? at least no sanction is issued to other countries by china. check the records of badly behavior of USA and refresh your mind pls.

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  6. Polymer room temperature superconductors carry approx. 1 billion amps/cm2. Low voltage high current underground cables need to be considered in an initial standard. See aesopinstitute.org

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  7. I’m inclined to say why bother with transmitting electricity long distances. Just build nuke plants within a few 100 km of the load.

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  8. Japan gets 10% of coal, natural gas and oil from Russia. 60% of the oil is from Saudi Arabia and UAE. South Korea and Japan both have China as their largest trading partner. I think they bring in components from China and assemble higher end products. However, Japan and South Korea’s economies are highly dependent on Russia and China already. The pan-asia grid would clean the energy up. The dependence would not have to increase that much. The energy cleanup just pushes the pollution generation initially over to Siberia and Mongolia.

    http://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/en/category/brochures/pdf/japan_energy_2016.pdf

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  9. A firm in the UK is taking orders for Room Temperature Superconducting Wire. See ULTRACONDUCTORS at aesopinstitute.org to learn more.

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  10. The supply nodes on that grid are in China and Russia. It is difficult to imagine Japan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) willingly making themselves dependent on those two badly behaved powers.

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  11. I think SC would be most useful used in semiconducting devices and other electronics. I can’t see them scaling well for the grid, but they would make excellent batteries and magnets for MRI’s/power generation.

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  12. The next big future for power transmission is Carbon nanotube-based cables. We are currently learning how to make the nanotubes longer so wee can weave them to cables. Once wee get a handle of this technology it is going to be extremely cheap, Capacity is many more times than copper cables and power loss is much lesser than UHV lines. No need for cooling.

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  13. Higher voltage, and superconducting are synergistic. Any new high voltage standards need to have superconductors considered as part of the standard. There may be ways to decrease the cost of installation, by adopting an initial standard.

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  14. Current losses due to transmission measure 7-10%, and don’t approach 50% even on the longest transmission lines. HVDC is an interesting alternative to HVAC, though, since it has reduced electromagnetic fields, and can be constructed with less ROW than AC.

    Agree that HTSC isn’t a magic balm, though it could reduce the size and cost of HVDC base stations, since HTSC thyristors and diodes could be more efficient (heat disposal is a big problem) and smaller than current SiC devices.

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  15. Megavolt transformers are cool. Room temperature superconductors are much cooler, though. And they would make all the appliances waste much less energy, and there will be less need for heat dissipation. A SC coil can be used effectively as a battery. Transforming AC with SC would be 0 loss… all cool stuff nit still in the realms of SciFi…

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