All the talk of super grids, micro grids and smart grids tends towards the theoretical. So it was great to get to finally touch a real piece of it —superconducting cable.

This morning I visited the Super Conductivity Test Center at LANL and got a tour of the amazing process they have developed to make a metal tape that is polished and then imprinted with an argon ion beam to create one continuous and perfectly symmetrical superconducting crystal only a few microns thick. 

This new material will form the basis of superconducting cable — several layers of tape are built up and wrapped around a flexible core which is then cooled by liquid nitrogen from inside. 

The new cable could put the "super" in Super Grid technology by allowing the extremely rapid transmission of electricity (electrons move five times faster on the tape than via the best copper cable available today) with virtually zero transmission loss. And they can carry at least 100x the current than a standard cable. This would mean less transformers, smaller generators, and less cable by weight to run. 

Engineering this new superconducting cable will need energy to keep the liquid nitrogen cool. But according to Lab director Steve Foltyn, the net gains in efficiency far outweigh the energy inputs required.

Foltyn mentioned that several private companies are under a corporate research development agreement with LANL and the DOE to get this new product to market, but no details yet.

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