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High-Temperature Superconductivity An Enabler for the Energy Transition

– An online collection of overview articles –


  • Markus Bauer, ThyssenKrupp, Germany,
  • João Murta-Pina, NOVA School of Science and Technology (FCT NOVA), Centre of Technology and Systems (CTS-UNINOVA), and Intelligent Systems Associate Laboratory (LASI), Portugal,
  • Antonio Morandi, University of Bologna, Italy,

1. Introduction

Climate change, the environmental impacts of a fossil fuel-based global economy, the depletion of resources, and the security of energy supply are drivers for an Energy Transition, a societal challenge that consists of the decarbonisation of the energy system by the second half of the 21st century.

The need to change to a carbon-free energy system is more urgent than ever, being the path to a sustainable future for the generations to come. Superconductivity-based technologies have the potential to accelerate the revolution that is imposed on the current energy paradigm, and they are already here.

Superconductivity is an extraordinary phenomenon, originally known as the vanishing of electrical resistivity in some materials below characteristic cryogenic temperatures. It is the equivalent to the absence of mechanical friction, where heavy loads could be transported effortlessly. Energy transmission may thus become available with virtually no losses, but superconductivity allows for many more unprecedented breakthroughs for all the links of the energy system: generation, transmission and distribution, use, and storage.

However, superconductivity is not limited to the loss of electrical resistivity. The distinctive electrical and magnetic properties of superconductors allow envisaging more compact, innovative, and often disruptive concepts for the energy system. Superconductivity is also an enabler of major breakthroughs as is the case of nuclear fusion. Advancing and disseminating superconducting-based technologies does not only affect the way energy is generated and managed. This is a field with vast applications, such as healthcare, defence, transportation, computation, and fundamental research, among others.

1.1. Goal of this collection

This is a live and online document, intended for readers who might not have the technical and scientific background required to fully understand the multidisciplinary and complex field of applied superconductivity, yet are concerned and committed to the technological challenges of a paradigm change to a sustainable energy system. Its purpose is to shed light on the most mature and promising superconducting-based technologies, and their extraordinary potential to accelerate the Energy Transition. Students, professionals, policymakers, or concerned and curious citizens, may find here a guide to this fascinating world. Throughout these pages, readers will find a description of the several solutions and technologies, their role in each link of the energy system, the prospective benefits of superconductivity, as well as their level of maturity. Additionally, references for more information are given.

Among the different classes of materials, this document focuses on the so-called High-Temperature Superconductors (HTS). Officially (IEC 60050-815:2015 International Electrotechnical Vocabulary (IEV) – Part 815: Superconductivity), HTS materials are defined as those that enter the superconducting state above 25 K (–248 °C) with many of them becoming superconducting even above 77 K (-196 °C), the temperature of the cheap and abundant liquid nitrogen. These materials allow operation at higher temperatures than the originally discovered low-temperature superconductors (LTS), which are often limited to some degrees above absolute zero. This has a dramatic impact on cost-effectiveness of the operation and maintenance of HTS systems when compared to LTS ones. The temperature at which the materials enter superconductivity is called the critical temperature.

1.2. Navigating this collection

Besides this first introductory chapter, readers will find four more chapters, each one corresponding to one link of the energy chain and there is an additional one concerning practical information on properties of the different commercially available HTS materials. The document is thus organised according to the following chapters and sections, where the most mature and prospective applications are presented. The problem addressed, the proposed solution, the status of development and market penetration, and the challenges for adoption, are described, whenever possible.

  • Chapter 2: Energy Generation
    • 2.1: Superconducting Wind Turbine Generators
    • 2.2: Nuclear Fusion Machines
  • Chapter 3: Energy Transmission and Distribution
    • 3.1: Superconducting AC Cables for Power Distribution ( Download)
    • 3.2: Superconducting DC Cables for Power Transmission
    • 3.3: Fault Current Limiters
  • Chapter 4: Energy Use
    • Coming soon …
  • Chapter 5: Energy Storage
    • 5.1: Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage (SMES)
  • Chapter 6: Side Information
    • 6.1: Commercially available HTS materials

As mentioned, this is a live document. More articles will be added, and existing ones will be updated. Applied superconductivity and the urgency of the Energy Transition suggest that major developments and breakthroughs will arise in the times to come.

1.3. Acknowledgment

This publication is based upon work from COST Action Hi-SCALE, CA19108, supported by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology).

COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is a funding agency for research and innovation networks. Our Actions help connect research initiatives across Europe and enable scientists to grow their ideas by sharing them with their peers. This boosts their research, career and innovation.