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An image of a cleaved fluorine-doped lanthanum oxide iron arsenide sample taken using a hybrid scanning laser plus color confocal microscope. The new material superconducts even when exposed to extremely strong magnetic fields.  (Source: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory)

Another image of the new superconductor.  (Source: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory)

Frank Hunte, a postdoctoral associate at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory's Applied Superconductivity Center is among the researchers who probed the mysteries of the new magnetism resistant material.  (Source: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory)
The new class of materials discovered may eliminate one of the traditional weaknesses of superconductors

DailyTech has been extensively covering the breakthroughs in superconductors over the last couple years.  The class of materials is very promising in that if someday it could replace conductors, it would mean that electricity could travel at virtually no losses to anywhere in the world.  This would result in vast energy savings and allow for dramatically faster computers, free of the burden of resistance-produced waste heat.

Standing in the way of the advances are three critical weaknesses of superconductors.  The first and most well known is their temperature dependence.  Superconductors must be beneath a critical temperature to superconduct.  Typically this critical temperature is extremely low, well beneath the means of even standard liquid nitrogen cooling.  The critical temperature is somewhat pressure dependent, so extremely high pressure superconductors can superconduct at higher temperatures.

Recent non-high pressure superconductors have upped the standard Tc to around 138 K (-200 °F).  Recently found a cupric-lead-tin-oxide superconductor, (Sn1.0Pb0.5In0.5)Ba4Tm5Cu7O20, with a Tc of 185.6 K.

The other two lesser known limitations of superconductors are high current and magnetism.  At high current, superconductors can cease to function properly.  Magnetic fields are particularly deadly to superconductors.  Typically, even a small magnet field will revert a superconductor back to a normal conductor.

A new breakthrough from scientists has found a unique class of superconductors which seem to be amazingly almost completely immune to magnetism.  This is a significant breakthrough as it could remove one of the largest obstacles to commercializing superconducting.

The new material was first discovered by Japanese researchers early this year that had been looking into iron-superconductors, an atypical choice for superconductor metals, and added a bit of arsenic to the mix.  The new iron oxyarsenide -- which also featured oxygen, as the name implies -- superconductor.  The new material, which also contained the rare earth metal lanthanum, could superconduct at 26 K (-413 °F).

The researchers were somewhat surprised to find a fully working superconductor with iron as iron typically creates a magnetic field when conducting.  Somehow the superconductor was surviving a magnetic field, an unexpected first.

Now researchers David Larbalestier, Alex Gurevich and Jan Jaroszynski, and colleagues in David Mandrus' groupat Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Frank Hunte, a postdoctoral associate at the Applied Superconductivity Center (ASC) of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University have investigated the phenomena in more depth and synthesized new iron superconductors.

The researchers reported their findings (PDF) in the prestigious journal Nature.  Larbalestier, director of the ASC states, "What one would like is a greater selection of superconductors, operating at higher temperatures, being cheaper, possibly being more capable of being made into round wires.  Iron and arsenic, both inherently cheap materials, are key constituents of this totally new class of superconductors. We're just fascinated. It's superconductivity in places you never thought of."

The researchers put the new superconductors to the test, placing them within Oak Ridge National Laboratory's 45-tesla Hybrid magnet, one of the most powerful research magnets in existence.  Researchers expected the magnet to be sufficient to kill the superconductor, but to their surprise it tolerated it and was healthily superconducting even at the magnetic field's full power. 

On a technical side the research yields an even greater mystery, perhaps indicating that we know less about superconduction than we think we do.  Superconduction on an atomic level has long been though to occur through so-called "Cooper pairs", paired electrons with opposite spin, momentum, etc.  Magnetism was thought to break these pairs.  Either iron has some sort of unique way of keeping the pairs bonded, or the current model is incomplete or flawed.

A third possibility is that Cooper pairs are only one method of superconduction, and that the new material utilizes a new mechanism.  Says Hunte, "So far based on both theoretical calculations and what we're seeing from the experiments, it seems likely that this is a completely different mechanism for superconductivity."

Possible applications of the new tech include ultra-efficient superconducting motors and power transmission lines.  They could also be used in new superconducting magnets, which would open up a new world of research opportunities in diverse fields of science.  Hunte states, "The field is completely open. No one knows where this is going to go.  If it's found that these materials can support high current densities, then they could be tremendously useful."

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By Gul Westfale on 6/2/2008 2:08:59 AM , Rating: 2
a breakthrough like this is always good, let's hope that it won't be too long til we see some products making use of this new material.

oh, and this is kinda cool:

RE: nice
By FITCamaro on 6/2/2008 5:56:45 AM , Rating: 1
Well -413F is hardly a temperature I think you'll be able to keep your motherboard or processor at. I think any power savings from using this superconducting material in your computer would be drastically outweighed by the cooling costs to keep it in operation.

RE: nice
By Ratinator on 6/2/2008 2:41:12 PM , Rating: 2
Why are people so negative. Of course it won't work in Motherboards at that temperature, that's a no brainer. The idea is that they made a breakthrough that maybe they can start to build off. Why do people consistently feel that a breakthrough has to equate to real world everyday use. You have to start somewhere and this is a starting point of sorts. They build off this knowledge and hopefully someday they can find a way to create a superconductor that works at room temperature.

RE: nice
By FITCamaro on 6/2/2008 3:52:08 PM , Rating: 2
My point was that the original post says "hopefully it won't be too long until..." But it will be a while. This is just the first step. Even when we do develop a stable superconductor that operates at room temperature, it will still be years before it makes its way into the consumer market. Governments will find their uses for it first.

I'm not against research. I'm very much for it. I just don't view cutting edge materials research as something that will affect my life in the near future.

RE: nice
By lightfoot on 6/2/2008 4:27:29 PM , Rating: 1
Actually the original post said:

let's hope that it won't be too long til we see some products making use of this new material.

This does not necessarily mean household products like computers. Superconductors have the greatest promise in high power transmission lines. If we could reduce the amount of power loss during transmission, we could see energy costs plummet, and greatly reduce our need for new power plants. That alone would be great to see in the next 5-10 years.

RE: nice
By masher2 on 6/2/2008 6:50:15 PM , Rating: 4
> " If we could reduce the amount of power loss during transmission, we could see energy costs plummet"

Eh? Even assuming we could build superconducting lines as cheap as plain copper ones, we'd still can't possibly save more than the 7% or so currently lost in transmission lines....meaing we'd only see power costs drop by the same 7% factor.

RE: nice
By ZmaxDP on 6/2/2008 8:54:33 PM , Rating: 2
While I agree that this wouldn't make a "huge" difference (whatever that is) 7% of our national energy use is still pretty darn significant given our total consumption.

Also, I'd point out that the traditionally accepted doesn't have a linear relationship. So, accordingly, a 7% decrease in demand would equate to a higher decrease in price given constant supply. So, while I wouldn't expect a 50% reduction in energy prices for electricity, something in the 15% to 25% range wouldn't be unexpected. I don't think anyone would complain about a 15% drop in their electricity bills (fees aside).

None the less, the price of these materials is going to affect adoption. Even if we make the wild leap that such materials were feasibly today (room temp super-conduction, etc...) if they were similarly priced then it would take 10 to 15 years minimum to replace the major transmission lines across the US. Heck, 40 years might be a better bet at cost parity. If they cost more, there is a limited range where the cost increase makes sense for the 7% energy savings. If they cost less, then replacement will happen faster then at parity. Still, you'll never see a precipitous drop in prices from this kind of innovation as our demand rises year to year, and supply isn't increasing fast enough currently. So, it's far more likely that such an innovation would help keep current costs from increasing as much as it is used to replace existing power delivery infrastructure.

Long story short, if you want energy prices to drop any time soon, you're a lot better off finding/inventing one of the following:

1. Previously undiscovered vast supplies of easily harvested fossil fuels in a part of the world your government controls. (It would still take years to develop, but the knowledge of it's existence might have a pretty large effect on current prices...)

2. A more efficient fast to develop cost effective alternative energy source. (Solar isn't efficient enough yet to be cost competitive for most of the world. Nuclear is far too cost prohibitive and time consuming to develop at the levels required to replace a significant portion of our energy. Wind, ha... keep dreaming. There just isn't anything that meets all three criteria currently.)

3. Significant, immediate, and sustained energy use reductions in your country - history isn't on our side on this one.

So, hope for a miracle, or start inventing, because #2 is our best bet.

RE: nice
By lightfoot on 6/3/2008 12:41:34 PM , Rating: 2
7% is the average line loss in the US. Only the worst lines would be replaced. (Hoover Dam to Las Vegas anyone? Potential savings of 20-140 MW assuming at least 1% and a max of 7% of the 2,000 MW capacity.)

Lets assume that you could get half of the average 7%, that still saves you 3.5%

My point is that it does not need to be cheaper than copper, it just needs to be more cost effective.

3.5% may not sound like much, but it is significant. 3.5% is 3.5% less that people need to buy, that is 3.5% fewer power plants, 3.5% fewer wind turbines, 3.5% fewer solar panels. 3.5% can be the difference between operating at a loss or making a profit. 3.5% can be the difference between an always on power-grid and rolling blackouts.

Any gain in efficiency should not be scoffed at and dismissed so easily.

RE: nice
By JustTom on 6/4/2008 1:06:01 PM , Rating: 2
No, that is not how economics works. A 7% decrease in transmission losses could translate in a cost decrease of a lots more than 7%, depending on what it cost to produce that 7%. Marginal costs are typically much higher than average costs and when you are shaving losses you are shaving it off marginal costs.

RE: nice
By uibo on 6/2/08, Rating: 0
45T Hybrid
By ElGuapo2872 on 6/2/2008 8:25:01 AM , Rating: 4
The 45 Tesla magnet mentioned in the article is actually based at the NHMFL in Tallahassee. It was designed by John Miller (who now works at Oak Ridge) and was brought online in 1999.

Superconducting Motor
By oransmat on 6/2/2008 2:12:49 PM , Rating: 2
I first heard years ago about superconducting motors. US Navy and others are looking for them for use in ships. These things defintally use magnetic fields... So what is new here?

RE: Superconducting Motor
By Filksinger on 6/3/2008 6:08:19 PM , Rating: 2
I first heard years ago about superconducting motors. US Navy and others are looking for them for use in ships. These things defintally use magnetic fields... So what is new here?

People have been researching superconducting motors for years, yes. Unfortunately, so far they have failed to get anywhere significant because the only superconductors that could take the magnetic fields required need to be cooled with liquid helium.

What's new is that these new superconductors work at much higher temperatures, and can take far higher magnetic fields, than their super-cooled cousins. They are, so far as I know, the first major candidates for practical superconductor motors.

By joex444 on 6/2/2008 11:34:51 AM , Rating: 3
"...know less about superconduction than we think we do. Superconduction on an atomic level..."

Now, I vaguely recall the argument my professor got into with a fellow student, but as I recall it was over the word "superconduction." Namely, don't use that word. Here, "superconductivity" would be more appropriate.

And for those that don't find 45T absolutely astonishing, I have used a 0.5T magnetic field within a SQUID magnetometer. It uses liquid HELIUM, which boils at 4K (-269C) and a superconducting ring to produce that field. And that is the maximum field it can produce. With all of this, the NHMFL is able to produce a field 90x stronger. What can you describe that as, other than impressive?

RE: terminology
By FITCamaro on 6/2/08, Rating: 0
missing the point
By EEeng on 6/3/2008 2:29:09 PM , Rating: 2
The real savings would likely come in generation.
"ultra-efficient superconducting motors"

Likely no material will reach a point where it could be an economical replacement for copper transmission lines.

However, minimizing losses / maximizing generation at the power source could warrant extravagant cooling / more expensive materials.

Anyone know of a place where "new superconducting magnets" would be extremely useful?

By sirius4k on 6/2/08, Rating: -1
RE: =D
By Chil on 6/2/2008 2:34:56 AM , Rating: 2
Wow. Not even close.

RE: =D
By daftrok on 6/2/2008 3:41:56 AM , Rating: 3
RE: =D
By KiDDGuY on 6/2/2008 7:48:56 AM , Rating: 1
Denzel Washington .... meh, maybe
Eddie Murphy .... Maybe if this guy turned into a monkey then back to human ( you know, kind of like a "RE-CYCLED" person) then yeah sure :)

RE: =D
By LatinMessiah on 6/3/2008 9:43:45 PM , Rating: 1
Looks more like Damon Wayans.

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