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Superconductor Power

Some of the blackouts that struck California this winter might have been avoided if power companies could more quickly move large amounts of electricity between regions. Such a boost may be possible with a new type of superconducting tape invented at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Superconductivity Technology Center. Made from nickel alloy, the tape is coated with fine layers of zirconia using a pulsed-laser process that precisely orients the zirconia grains after deposition. Then subsequent layers of nickel are applied to create a superconducting film as thin as six micrometers. The tape carries one million amperes per square centimeter of current, about 14 times the capacity of today’s bismuth-based superconducting tape and 200 times better than copper wire. The liquid-nitrogen-cooled tape can operate at a relatively balmy -196 C, making it far more economical than many existing high-capacity tapes that require cooling by liquid helium at temperatures as low as -269 C. The new process is also much faster than earlier methods. Within two to three years the tape should appear in products including transformers, electric motors and transmission cables. -V. Herrera

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