New material could help cut future energy losses

Monday, 27 April, 2009

Scientists at the University of Liverpool and Durham University in the UK have developed a new material to further understanding of how superconductors could be used to transmit electricity to built-up areas and reduce global energy losses.

The team produced a material from a molecule called carbon60 to demonstrate how a superconductor — an element, compound or alloy that doesn’t oppose the steady passage of an electric current — could work at temperatures suitable for commercial use in cities and towns.

Superconductors have been developed to function at high temperatures, but the structure of the material is so complex that scientists have yet to understand how they could operate at room temperature for future use in providing power to homes and companies.

Professor Matt Rosseinsky, from Liverpool’s Department of Chemistry, explains: “Superconductivity is a phenomenon we are still trying to understand and particularly how it functions at high temperatures. We made a material in powder form that was a non-conductor at room temperature and had a much simpler atomic structure, to allow us to control how freely electrons moved and test how we could manipulate the material to super-conduct.”

Professor Kosmas Prassides, from Durham University, said: “At room pressure the electrons in the material were too far apart to super-conduct, so we ‘squeezed’ them together using equipment that increases the pressure inside the structure. We found that the change in the material was instantaneous — altering from a non-conductor to a superconductor.”

The research will allow scientists to search for materials with the right chemical and structural ingredients to develop superconductors that will reduce future global energy losses.

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