Superconductivity Handbook – WIF Into the Future

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Our Future

Light-Driven Superconductivity

A follow-up discovery to electricity in the early 20th century was superconductivity, which is the complete loss of electrical resistance and displacement of magnetic fields when certain materials are cooled to a critical temperature.

Superconductivity has come a long way since its discovery in the early 20th century too receiving the Nobel Prize in physics in 1987.

There are numerous applications of superconductivity being developed and implemented and it is these applications that once again will change our civilization far into the future in the same way that electricity did in the 20th century.

10. ITER

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is a joint venture involving seven bodies of government. ITER is currently one of the most expensive public scientific projects in history. The goal of ITER is to prove fusion is viable by getting more energy out than putting in. ITER is being built in France and will be the largest tokamak ever built. A tokamak is a device using a magnetic field to confine a plasma in the shape of a torus. The amount of temperatures ITER plans to induce inside the tokamak will be between 150-300 million degrees Celsius. At those temperatures, the isotopes of hydrogen (e.g. deuterium) can be fused turning into one of the four states of matter (e.g. plasma). The tokamak will require large superconducting coils to create an immense magnetic field to contain the plasma. The challenge that lies ahead for ITER is vast because there are other means to produce fusion in addition to the tokamak. It is likely that ITER will continues on its path to become operational by the late 2020’s and will demonstrate that fusion energy is attainable. However, companies like General Fusion and Lockheed Martin will likely bring fusion energy to the commercial market before ITER ever gets turned on.

9. Quantum Train

Magnetic levitation (maglev) is on the verge of being adopted in many new modes of transport, but few are adopting HTSM (High Temperature Superconducting Maglev). Although maglev can be created by a number of different processes, the most promising are the companies who are taking full advantage of the Meisnner Effect. The Meisnner Effect allows trains to float on a permanent magnetic guide way. There is currently a lot of buzz around Japan’s proposal to build a HTSM train which could achieve 600 km per hour. Japan’s HTSM train developed by JR Central has its limitations due to extremely expensive cost but the Japanese government intends to develop a superconducting maglev line between Tokyo to Nagoya costing well over $200 billion until completion. A more cost effective HTSM train is known as theQuantum Train. A Quantum Train being proposed by the Dutch would modify existing railway and would cut cost significantly compared to the Japanese proposal.  The Quantum Train intends to exceed 3000 km per hour due to the adoption of patented evacuated tube transport.

8. MRIs

When a patient slides into a modern Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine, superconductivity is what drives the medical imaging technique used in radiology.   MRI scanners use magnetic fields and radio waves to form images of the body. The technique is widely used in hospitals for medical diagnosis, staging of disease and for follow-up without exposure to ionizing radiation. MRI’s use strong magnetic fields and require superconducting coils that are cooled via liquid helium. MRI’s are certainly the most familiar application of superconductivity in the modern world. MRI’s have made a myriad of diagnosis varying from malignant tumors, schizophrenia, heart disease, and so much more. It is clear that use of MRI machines have proved to the world that superconductivity has immense benefits for the wellbeing of mankind. MRI machines in hospitals across the globe have saved millions of lives, all in thanks to superconductivity.

7. HTS Motor

High Temperature Superconductivity (HTS) is the driving force in the field of superconductivity. Historically, superconductor materials required very cold critical temperatures only achieved with the use of expensive cryogens such as liquid helium that operate at only a few degrees above Kelvin (absolute zero).  HTS materials operate at a much higher critical temperature (e.g. 70 K) and require much cheaper cryogens such as liquid nitrogen.  The typical motor requires lots of copper wire, materials and are highly inefficient when compared to an HTS motor. It is no surprise that the USA Navy is paving the way by being the first to apply HTS motors to their armada which will provide savings in energy costs while taking efficiency to a new level.

6. Elevators

The future of cities is leading to the Megacity; super dense populations of over 10 million residents or more. High Rises will abound and the way people are transported within these “walled cities” will change. The design of the current day elevator has not materially changed for over 160 years and has limited architects from building new, bold and completely different shapes for high rises. The use of new magnetically levitating elevators for skyscrapers will completely change architectural design for high rises going forward. Superconducting elevators will allow Megacities to flourish and will allow for theoretical Mega Structures to reach well over a mile high into the atmosphere.   Superconducting elevators take advantage of the Meisner effect and use a series of Linear Induction Motors to accelerate the magnetically levitating elevators cabins vertically and horizontally. The world tallest building in Dubai, Burj Khalifa, will seem trivial in height in the coming decades.

5. StarTram

It costs a lot of money to send anything into space, billions are spent yearly to send satellites into LEO and the International Space Station (ISS) has exceeded over $125 billion in costs. And because of cost, StarTram is still considered by overwhelming majority as unfeasible in today’s world. But StarTram would make it possible to send cargo and passengers into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  Dr. James Powell, co-inventor of StarTram, is considered way ahead of his time and a true “All Star” in the world of superconductivity. Dr. Powell invented superconducting maglev in the late 60’s and his contributions to superconductivity are substantial to say the least.

The principles behind StarTram involves 100’s of miles of connected tubes evacuated of air that would reach 14 miles into the atmosphere. A SkyTram space portal would be located at a mountain range a few miles above sea level (e.g. Mongolia) to negate some of the cost of connecting the tubes from sea level to 20 miles high. SkyTram’s tubes will be lined with permanent magnets while SkyTram’s superconducting maglev pods will be able to accelerate through the evacuated tubes (no air resistance) at well over Mach 20 to reach LEO. The estimated cost of SkyTram is over $60 billion and would take massive coordination, both political and business in nature, to make SkyTram a reality. As a species, we have always been pondering what lies across the vastness between the stars and it is absolutely critical as a species to survive to get off this ‘Pale Blue Dot’. StarTram would greatly reduce the cost of space travel and would lead to the building of starships such as the superconductive EmDrive which would allow civilization to travel between the stars.

4. EM Drive

Quite possible the greatest discovery in propulsion systems in the history of mankind is the implications of the EM Drive. The EM Drive was Invented by British engineer Roger Shawyer in 2000 and has been shunned by the scientific community for over a decade because the EM Drive indicates its breaking Newton’s 3rd law of thermodynamic, the conservation of momentum. However, Chinese scientists in 2010 and scientist from NASA in 2014 confirmed Roger’s EM Drive that by converting electricity into electromagnetic microwaves inside a specially designed chamber exhibited measurable thrust. The ramifications of the EM Drive means that no propellant is needed to propel a satellite or spaceship across the medium of space, just a source of energy (e.g. radioactive materials).

Despite the skepticism and controversy the EM Drive has brought upon the scientific community, the superconducting EM Drive version would allow increase in thrust efficiency by a huge margin. Star Trek spaceships powered by EM Drives could reach 60% the speed of light after a few years of constant thrust. The physics behind the EM Drive is so revolutionary that the superconductive version is years away and the EM Drive wouldn’t be limited to space explorations. Roger says it best, “superconducting EM Drives will be ‘powerful enough to lift a large car’ (under Earths gravity)”.

3. LHC

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), one of the most expensive completed scientific experimental project in history has brought the discovery of the Higgs Boson. As a result of the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the Noble prize in physics was awarded to Peter Higgs & Francois Englert and has brought some closure to the Standard Model in particle physics. Multiple experiments are being done at the LHC to bridge the gap between the world of quantum mechanics and the world of general relativity. The role of superconductivity for the particle accelerator has been crucial for LHC’s success. In order for the LHC to accelerate protons close to the speed of light, strong magnetic fields and a vacuumed environment are needed to keep the protons on their trajectory. High levels of electrical current are needed to accelerate the protons to high speeds and superconductive coils allow for the electrical currents to flow without additional energy and zero resistance.

In the decade to come, China proposes to build a much larger particle accelerator than the LHC; over 54 km in diameter compared to LHC’s 17 km diameter. The role of ‘atom smashers’ will play an important role to our understanding of the observable universe. Particle accelerators are capable of producing anti matter, at a current cost of $62.5 trillion per gram, and perhaps the cost of anti-matter will follow Moors Law in the coming half century to allow for practical use of anti-matter for numerous applications.

2. HTS Power cables

Currently, almost all transmission of electrical current is via copper wire. In the USA alone, 6% of electricity is lost in transmission according to the EIA.  That 6% equates to 10’s of billions of dollars ‘flushed down the toilet’ due to poor transmission of electricity. The case is a lot worse for developing countries like India. In 2000 India reported a 30% loss of electrical current in transition across their utility lines but has subsequently made improvements and increased the efficiency of transmitting electricity to 18%. A much more efficient way of transmission is through the use ofHTS powercables , which provides 0% loss of electrical current during transmission. High Temperature Superconductors, such as HTS Powercables, use much cheaper cryogens like liquid nitrogen (Nitrogen is 78% of earth atmosphere).  A gallon of liquid nitrogen is 4 times cheaper than a gallon of milk. HTS power cables have become economically viable.

HTS power cables also require a lot less material than copper wire to transmit equal amount of current.  In the USA, the DOE has multiple HTS power cable project across the country to increase the grids efficiency, reduce carbon footprint, and save money. The case for HTS power cables to be adopted across the globe is strong. Germany has tested the world longest HTS power cable line of 1 km and has worked without a glitch. The most mind boggling notion surrounding HTS power-cables, combined with Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies (ET3), is its capabilities to store well over 15 TW (terawatts) of energy on a global scale.

1. Space Travel on Earth

The future of transport is on the verge of becoming a ‘physical world wide web’ of evacuated tubes (ETs) via ET3 (Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies). The case for tube transport had reached its tipping point when Elon Musk met with the ET3 team 2 weeks before he made his Hyperloop announcement 3 years ago. ET3 has been 25 years in the making. ET3’s first patent was in 1999 and dozens more have been developed since then.

ET3 involves a series of factors: evacuating 1.5 diameter tubes of air via vacuum pumps, linear electrical motors, and most importantly HTS superconductors and permanent magnets. Car sized capsules enter the evacuated tubes via airlocks and each capsule holds a cryostat that cools the HTS material on each capsule. A few gallons of liquid nitrogen could keep an ET3 capsule levitated for 4 hours.

So much attention has brought upon the Hyperloop yet ET3 has gone through over 15 years of R&D and is ready to be built right now. ET3 also goes by Space Travel On Earth because it brings ‘space like conditions down to earth’ (e.g. an evacuated environment is a void with only a few particles per million; like outer space). The implication of Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) on the global scale will bring the world ever more connected. ETT capsules (800 lbs per) transporting food, waste, oil, freight, data, persons, energy, etc. will be able to travel over 400 mph in local Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) evacuated tube networks while international routes could reach 4,000 mph. Once Space Travel on Earth is implemented, it will have a far reaching impact on the world economy & would literally double the standard of living for all.

Superconductivity Handbook

WIF Future-001

– WIF into the Future

Earth Week Weekender – WIF Alternative Energy

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Alternative, Alternative-Energy

10. Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT)


Countries like China, the United States, Germany, Denmark, Spain and India produce over 175,000 MW of power with traditional wind turbines, but that number stands to double if they’re replaced with BATs.

The technology is simple. Basically, a huge blimp with a wind turbine in the middle is secured to the ground and hoisted to altitudes of nearly 2000 feet. At that elevation, winds are blowing at much greater speeds and thus generate twice the power. These new turbines can withstand wind speeds of up to 43 miles per hour, after which the BAT can automatically duck for cover to whatever altitude is safe.

The environmental impact is far less visible at such heights, not to mention the 90% cost reductions in terms of transportation and deployment. Unlike traditional turbines, BATs can easily be dismantled and redeployed elsewhere if needed.

9. Oyster


With over 70% of the world’s surface covered in water, it’s a surprise that tidal wave energy was left behind in the race for renewable energy. Oyster is an attempt to bring this form of energy back to the forefront.

Its design is that of a flap, pushed and pulled by the waves, 50 feet underwater and 1600 feet offshore. Through this endless cycle, Oyster is able to pump energy all the way back to a standard hydro-electric power plant on the mainland. So far two flaps have been successfully tested off the coast of Scotland. Oyster 1 was able to produce 315 kW of power, while Oyster 800 (don’t ask us to explain their naming convention) managed a whopping 800 kW, capable of bringing power to around 80 houses.

Waves are a frequent phenomenon, unlike tides that only come and go a couple of times a day. The Oyster can also operate in stormy conditions. The first Oyster farm,capable of producing 40 MW, is currently being developed off the north-western coast of Scotland, with future plans for a larger 200 MW farm near the Orkney archipelago.

8. Algae Based Biofuels

Flowers blue-green algae in the river wate

Biofuels are crop-derived ethanol or biodiesel made primarily out of rapeseed, corn, wheat, sugarcane, sugar beet, soy or other crops. But all of these crops need land to grow on, which is either acquired by replacing food production crops or by cutting down forests, neither of which is viable in the long run.

A better approach is to use algae. Since some algae have a natural oil content of around 75%, they can be easily processed into biofuel. The rest of the plant can beused as fertilizer to grow even more algae. It grows very quickly, and doesn’t need any farm land or fresh water to do so. On average, algae can produce around 5000 gallons of ethanol per acre in one year, as compared to only 800 gallons produced with sugarcane.

Scientists at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York have discovered that these biofuel producing algae can also clean wastewater. They consume nitrates and phosphates, and also reduce toxins and bacteria. The state of Alabama became home to the first algae biofuel system that also cleans wastewater. Because the entire traditional water treatment process is excluded, algae growing is carbon-negative.

7. Solar Windows


Every second, the sun bombards the Earth with roughly 174 quadrillion watts of energy, and we’re only just beginning to tap into that immense power. The problem with standard solar panels is that they convert a maximum of only 20% of the sun’s energy into electricity, all the while being very costly in terms of production.

But recently, scientists from the University of California have discovered how to make solar panels transparent. The material is a plastic-like substance which is transparent in the normal light spectrum, but is able to pick up infrared light. Because it’s made of plastic, it’s relatively cheap to manufacture compared to traditional solar panels. It can also double as an ordinary window in someone’s house. Every sun-bathed window in the world could convert solar energy into electricity.

6. Volcanic Electricity


A geothermal plant is like a coal plant without the coal. They both work on the principle of heating water until it becomes steam, which in turn runs turbines that produce electricity. The difference is that instead of burning coal, a geothermal plant will use the heat of the Earth itself. By drilling holes into the ground some two to six miles deep, temperatures can reach 160 to 600 degrees F. Places with high volcanic activity are ideal for this type of renewable energy, since underground magma is much closer to the surface and holes don’t have to be dug so deep.

Iceland recently drilled a hole and hit a pocket of magma by mistake. They decided to pour water down the shaft to see what happened. What they witnessed was something record breaking — steam gushed out at temperatures of above 842 F. For comparison, steam generated at geothermal plants usually hovers around 158 degrees F. These traditional plants produce around 40 MW of energy, good for roughly 11,500 homes. This discovery is still in its testing phase, but this type of power could multiply the amount of electricity produced by geothermal plants tenfold.

5. Betaray


We just discussed the vast amount of energy the sun produces and the inefficiency of standard solar panels. Andre Broessel, a German architect, has come up with a simple yet brilliant idea to increase the energy output in photovoltaic cells. By incorporating a liquid filled glass sphere into the design of a solar panel, the energy output is increased by 34%. It’s fitted with a tracking device that’s able to follow the sun on its daily migration west, and the Betaray can also tap into the sun’s rays on overcast days, producing four times the energy of a normal solar panel. It can even draw energy from the moon on clear nights.

The device is specially designed to work for individual houses or buildings, places with limited space for solar panel deployment. It can easily be fitted onto inclined surfaces and curtain walls. The project is still in its development stage, but once finished it might change the look of rooftops around the world.

4. Viruses


A breakthrough took place at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California,where scientists managed to create a virus that can produce an electrical charge when a material is mechanically deformed or stressed. This material is made out of the engineered M13 virus, which usually infects bacteria. Long story short, it’s a device that transforms a simple gesture like pushing a button or sliding your finger on a screen into electricity.

Its practical applications are endless, with many being used on wireless technologies like mobile phones and laptops. This development will most certainly make other devices and appliances less dependent on the power grid, and even become more portable in the process. What’s even greater is that this virus can be sprayed on any surface, like the floor or a chair, and then produce electricity when it’s stimulated by movement or pressure. But we won’t get too far ahead of ourselves — in its current state, the maximum output generated was a quarter of that of a triple-A battery.

3. Thorium


Thorium is a radioactive metal similar to uranium, but it can produce 90 times more energy at a fraction of the waste. It’s also three to four times more abundant in nature,and just one gram of the stuff is equivalent to 7400 gallons of gas in terms of energy.

Because of this, Connecticut’s LaserPowerSystems Company has come up with a plan to create a thorium based engine for cars. By using a laser powered with only eight grams of thorium to heat up water and generate steam, a car can run for more than 100 years or one million miles without the need to reful. The engine only weighs around 500 pounds, making it able to replace a standard vehicle’s engine.

The greatest challenge is the fact that thorium hasn’t proven its potential on a commercial scale. Because a focus was placed on uranium as the prime nuclear fuel for the last 60 years, thorium based reactors are a lot more expensive to build. And the science, while sound, is mostly theoretical.

2. The “Impossible” Microwave Thruster


As the need to travel into space increases in the coming decades, the technology of a microwave powered thruster couldn’t have come at a better time. If viable, this technology could radically change the design of future spacecraft, eliminating the need to carry fuel. With half of any given spacecraft’s mass being fuel, this is a big deal.

This technology was labelled as impossible since it defies Newton’s third law, the law of momentum conservation. This law states that in order to move forward, an object must always leave something behind. In this case, rocket fuel is being ejected in order to propel a spacecraft. But by making microwaves bounce off reflectors inside a sealed chamber, scientists were able to achieve thrust without the use of a propellant.

The idea was first exhibited in 2006 by scientist Roger Shawyer. It was again proven by a team of Chinese researchers in 2012, but the science wasn’t taken seriously since it went against fundamentals in physics. Only in July 2014 was the idea accepted, thanks to Guido Fetta from NASA. Even now, scientists aren’t really sure how it works, but they agree that it does. It still has a long way to go, though — the thrust generated wasn’t even enough to lift a penny off a table.

1. International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)


Nuclear power has been the most reliable source of green energy we currently possess. Setting aside tragic accidents and the fact that it produces nuclear waste, this form of energy doesn’t pollute the environment nor cause any harm, if we’re careful. Further development has generated some amazing results, one of which is theTravelling Wave Reactor, which is capable of producing electricity from the waste left behind by traditional nuclear reactors. This technology could theoretically power the entire United States for the next seven centuries.

The real prize, however, is ITER. It’s a project so important that China, India, the EU, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Russia have come together to make it work. It’s located in southern France, and it’s the equivalent of building a sun in our own backyard.

ITER will be able to replicate the processes happening inside a star. Unlike fission, where atoms are torn apart to create energy, fusion binds two elements to generate even more power. This type of energy isn’t threatening, it doesn’t produce waste, and it’s the closest thing we could come to an endless source of power based on our current understanding of the universe. With every 50 MW it needs to work it gives 500 MW in return, enough to power 130,000 homes.

The theoretical knowledge has been around for decades, but the problem was in building a reactor capable of withstanding temperatures above 150 million degrees. This will be achieved by using electromagnets to keep the hot plasma away from the reactor’s walls. The project began way back in 1985, but only in 2010 did the technology became available to start construction. Future predictions say that by the beginning of the 2030s, ITER will begin its operations and be integrated into the power grid as early as 2040.

Earth Week Weekender

– WIF Alternative Energy