High-Temperature Superconductor Cable Will Speed Up Development of Nuclear Fusion

Commonwealth Fusion Systems new high-temperature superconductor (HTS) cable can be engineered into magnets directly applicable to the high magnetic field approach to fusion. The new HTS cable, called VIPER, can carry over fifty thousand amps of current with magnetic fields over 10 Tesla.

Some fusion magnets need to turn on and off continually. VIPER was tested for thousands of on-off cycles and saw minimal performance degradation. VIPER’s main innovation is combining hundreds of individual tapes into a soldered, monolithic block of conductor.

A variant of VIPER will be used in an ARPA-E funded program to make a fast-ramping, high-field central solenoid magnet capable of initiating and sustaining plasma current in a tokamak device on its own. This magnet will lower the cost and complexity of commercial fusion power plants.

Superconductor Science and Technology – VIPER: an industrially scalable high-current high-temperature superconductor cable

Here is the conclusion of the VIPER research paper:

VIPER cable demonstrates high mechanical strength, high cryostability, and rapid quench detection. Its performance is predictable and repeatable, allowing for high-confidence design. Its manufacturing process is simple and scalable to long lengths, and its simple, demountable joints allow for the repairability, access, maintenance and inspectability required by real-world applications. VIPER cable expands the performance boundaries of many critical energy generation and transmission technologies. It will, for example, enable the performance of large-scale high-field superconducting magnets to push well past 15 T. Such high-field superconducting magnet technology is presently enabling the high magnetic field pathway to accelerated fusion energy, including in the SPARC tokamak, an experiment seeking the demonstration of net fusion energy by the mid 2020’s, and slated to begin construction in 2021.

VIPER cable may also be relevant to high-energy physics detector magnets like those planned for the future circular collider. And it may find use in DC power cables, in the DC field winding components of electric motors and generators in the 10+ MW class, as well as in magnetic energy storage devices. This note has focused on the DC application of VIPER cable; however, AC applications are foreseen, and AC loss measurements were performed as part of the SULTAN tests. The results of these measurements and impact on VIPER cable suitability for AC applications will be reported in full in a future publication. Combined, these application categories are expected to drive significant scale up of HTS industry volumes and a corresponding reduction in cost. HTS demand in excess of 1000 km yr−1 is projected to drive the price of HTS tape below the $50/kA-m level over the next decade, greatly accelerating wide-scale application. We expect cost-effective VIPER cables to replace LTS cable in present and future applications and open new opportunities previously inaccessible to superconducting technology.

SOURCES – Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Superconductor Science and Technology
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

9 thoughts on “High-Temperature Superconductor Cable Will Speed Up Development of Nuclear Fusion”

  1. Preferably somewhere above room temperature. At room temp, you'd still need massive refrigeration to keep it going. But if it can still function at 100 C then we've got some serious flexibility. No AC needed for 99% of the applications. The other 1% can either be cooled or do without.

  2. If you put the pipe underground, the heat from the environment would have a lot of problem leaking in. Ten meter underground and (after the cable isolation) it would froze the rock/earth around and make heat transmission very slow.

  3. True, ideally you could lay it out in the Sun across Death Valley and it would still work . . . but baby steps, first.

  4. Room temperature *and* 1 atmosphere pressure. Did you see the announcement of a day or two ago about a demonstration of superconductivity in a material at 15 degrees C? But it only worked at diamond anvil cell pressure. Still, a step in the right direction.

  5. For superconductors, “high temperature” means the temperature of liquid nitrogen. “Low temperature” is liquid helium. So HTSC are much more convenient for building fusion reactor magnets, but they still aren’t great for long-distance power lines. 

    You’d have to put the line inside a pipe filled with liquid nitrogen. Then you wouldn’t lose any electrical energy, but you’d still have to spend a huge amount of energy keeping the nitrogen cold as heat from the environment leaks in.

    What we really need is “room temperature”, not “high temperature”. And no one knows how to do that at reasonable pressures.

  6. High temperature superconductors would change EVERYTHING.

    Starting with, we could put traditional power plants, wind farms, and solar arrays in the most climatically unpleasant parts of the world and send it anywhere on the planet with no loss.

    Of course, this would work with fusion plants that are out in the middle of nowhere, as well.

    And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg. Try to figure out what we could do with electricity so cheap we would no longer bother to meter it.

    How about desalinization plants on the bottom of the Pacific that pump clean water directly into the Ogallala aquifier? Or even just deep into Greenland and Antarctica? Or recycling unlimited by energy costs? People would be buying mining rights to landfills.

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