On the use of superconductors to improve energy efficiency

Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB)

The Superconducting Materials and Large Scale Nanostructures (SUMAN) group has participated in the EU-funded project EUROTAPES, whose main goal is to develop superconducting tapes to improve energy efficiency in Europe. The project, which counts with the participation of excellent researchers in the field, and the involvement of leading global companies and universities, has produced 600 meters of superconducting tape with an innovative method that reduces superconductor production cost, simplifies the architecture of these materials, and improves their capacity in high magnetic fields at various temperature scales. The project has also obtained significant results in advanced magnetic research, which is a field in which reference centers in Europe work, such as CERN and ITER. In the long term, the project aims at increasing the competitivity of renewable energy thanks to the possibility of building cheaper wind generators and producing a greater amount of energy.

Furthermore, the SUMAN group has also participated in the development of the first prototype of an electric superconducting generator for conventional medium power wind turbines (2 MW). This was done in cooperation with the Institute of Materials Science of Aragón (ICMA-CSIC-UNIZAR) and Gamesa Innovation and Technology. The use of superconducting materials simplifies the system, yielding higher reliability and efficiency, thus reducing maintenance needs. The advantages of this new type of electric generator using superconducting materials, compared to the conventional generators, are diverse: a) it simplifies the entire mechanical structure of the wind turbine as well as the electronic system; b) it simplifies assembly and maintenance, reduces the risk of breakdowns; c) the time of intervention before maintenance is needed is extended; and, d) in the near future, the cost will be reduced according to the rapid evolution of superconducting materials.

This breakthrough and the future implementation of this type of electric superconducting generator into wind turbines opens way to a different conception of these devices. This offers new perspectives to the wind power industry, allowing to make windmills more efficient and robust, and reducing the costs of energy production.

These two projects prove that superconducting materials will play a key role in the future  of energy generation and transport. These collaborations represent a clear case of successful technology transfer from research to their prospective industrial applications; in this case, in the field of wind power generation and energy transport. Research will certainly continue in this field to offer new innovative technological solutions for the industry.

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