Explainer: Room-temperature Superconductors
Scientists and engineers have long recognized the significant impact that a superconductor
that operates at room temperature and normal pressures would have on technology and society. The incredible wealth that it would generate has also led many researchers around the world to make false room-temperature superconductor (RTSC) discovery claims.
Background: Superconductors are materials that can conduct electricity with zero resistance, leading to the lossless flow of electrical current. This property has numerous practical applications, such as creating highly efficient power transmission lines, magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, and powerful electromagnets for medical devices and scientific research.
Traditionally, superconductors had to be cooled to extremely low temperatures, often near absolute zero (0 Kelvin or -273.15 degrees Celsius), to achieve their superconducting state. However, room-temperature superconductors hold the promise of conducting electricity without resistance at more practical and attainable temperatures, making them potentially revolutionary for technology and industry.
Room-temperature superconductors have the potential to revolutionize various technologies by enabling more efficient, powerful, and compact devices. If room-temperature superconductors become practical and commercially viable, the following technologies could greatly benefit:
- Power Transmission and Distribution: Room-temperature superconductors would allow for lossless electricity transmission over long distances. This could significantly reduce energy losses in the power grid, leading to more efficient and cost-effective electricity distribution.
- Electrical Motors and Generators: Electric motors and generators made with room-temperature superconductors would be more efficient and produce higher power outputs. This could have applications in electric vehicles, industrial machinery, and renewable energy generation systems.
- Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) Trains: Maglev trains that use superconducting magnets to levitate above the tracks can achieve high speeds and reduce friction, leading to faster and more energy-efficient transportation.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Superconducting magnets are crucial components in MRI machines. Room-temperature superconductors could lead to more compact and powerful MRI systems, improving medical imaging capabilities.
- Energy Storage: Superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) systems can store large amounts of energy for grid stabilization and peak power demands. Room-temperature superconductors would enhance the efficiency and capacity of these energy storage systems.
- Supercomputing: Superconducting circuits could significantly increase the speed and reduce the power consumption of supercomputers, enabling more powerful computing capabilities for various applications, including scientific simulations and artificial intelligence.
- Transportation Systems: Beyond maglev trains, room-temperature superconductors could improve other transportation technologies, such as high-speed electric trains and advanced propulsion systems for spacecraft.
- Electromagnets: Room-temperature superconductors could lead to the development of more powerful and compact electromagnets used in research, industry, and medical applications.
- Electric Grid Stabilization: Superconductors could be used in fault current limiters and power grid stabilization devices, enhancing grid reliability and resilience.
- Electrical Transmission Cables: High-capacity and low-loss electrical transmission cables made with room-temperature superconductors could improve the efficiency and capacity of power transmission networks.