Editor’s note: Superconducting generators and motors are some ways off, maybe a decade. But wire with the quality of superconduction might be closer and more useful, hence the significance of this report.
A University of Houston engineering researcher and his team have received $900,000 in additional funding from the DOE for a wind-energy project that involves using superconducting wire to generate and transport electricity.
The project, led by Venkat Selvamanickam, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor in UH’s mechanical engineering department, also received an accelerated $1 million grant extension along with the increase from the DOE’s Advanced Research Project-Energy (ARPA-E). Total funding awarded to the project is nearly $4 million.
Selvamanickam’s research team is working on developing wind turbines that use superconducting wire to generate and transport electricity, which would allow for more efficient and more affordable units. Superconducting materials carry electricity without any electrical resistance, resulting in no energy lost during transport. By one estimate, the U.S. looses up to 8% of all power generated in heat during transmission.
Wind turbines, however, do generate magnetic fields, which results in magnetic flux lines – essentially the pull of magnetism – running through and moving within superconducting wires. These flux lines interfere with a wire’s ability to transport electricity, lowering its performance.
The goal for the three-year project is to improve the performance of superconducting wire used in wind turbines by 400%. The research team was awarded $2.1 million for the first 18 months of the grant period, set to end in June 2013. At that point, a review of their progress was to determine whether the team would get the final $1 million to continue its work.
But researchers achieved impressive results just nine months into the grant. While they were aiming for a 50% improvement by the end of this year, they hit the 65% mark by the end of September.
The positive results prompted ARPA-E administrators to release the final $1 million ahead of schedule and award an additional $900,000 to the project. The extra funding will let the group accelerate its research and bring more people into the research team via graduate student and post-doctoral positions. Project collaborators include SuperPower Inc., the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Tai-Yang Research, and TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company.
University of Houston