According to March 30th 2006 issue of New Scientist, Nanodots may unlock power of superconducting wires
The next generation of superconducting wires, which could operate efficiently at the high temperatures needed to make applications such as levitating trains feasible, has been created by researchers.
For 20 years, researchers have worked to develop the perfect high-temperature superconducting wires to replace today's copper-based power grid. But the secret, it now seems, is to build flawed ones. The key may be to position non-conducting nanodots at strategic points within the wire.
Electrical current flowing through superconducting materials experiences virtually no resistance, enabling wires of the material to carry high current loads very efficiently. However, such a powerful current will disrupt itself because it produces a strong, fluctuating magnetic field.
By depositing lines of 10-nanometre-wide, non-conducting dots of barium zirconate at fixed distances along the wire, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, US, have found a way to disrupt current flow in just the right way to tone down these fluctuations.
"However, Selvamanickam says, the "killer app" for these wires will be as the infrastructure of tomorrow's electrical grid. A typical modern electrical grid based on copper wires can ferry current along with just under 90% efficiency. A grid based on an infrastructure of high-temperature superconducting wires could be more than 97% efficient."
Right now, that is too small a change to merit the cost of installation, says Paul Grant, one of the patent holders of YBCO and a consultant for the US government's department of energy.
"This change, in the end, is going to be moved by governmental policy," he says. "So it may be politics now that's slowing things down more than technology."
Not that the remaining technological challenges are insignificant. The method Oak Ridge used to produce the wires only spins out lengths measured in inches, rather than miles. There are two techniques for producing longer wires, but it is unclear how they could accommodate the inclusion of nanodots.
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