New Approach to Overcome Key Hurdle for Next-Generation Superconductors

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new computational approach to improve the utility of superconductive materials for specific design applications -- and have used the approach to solve a key research obstacle for the next-generation superconductor material yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO).

NC State researchers are proposing an approach that would allow product designers to interact directly with the industry that creates superconductive materials -- such as wires -- to create superconductors that more precisely match the needs of the finished product.

To demonstrate the utility of the process, researchers tackled a problem facing next-generation YBCO superconductors. YBCO conductors are promising because they are very strong and have a high superconducting current density -- meaning they can handle a large amount of electricity. But there are obstacles to their widespread use.

One of these key obstacles is how to handle "quench". Quench is when a superconductor suddenly loses its superconductivity. Superconductors are used to store large amounts of electricity in a magnetic field -- but a quench unleashes all of that stored energy. If the energy isn't managed properly, it will destroy the system -- which can be extremely expensive. "Basically, the better a material is as a superconductor, the more electricity it can handle, so it has a higher energy density, and that makes quench protection more important, because the material may release more energy when quenched.

To address the problem, researchers explored seven different variables to determine how best to design YBCO conductors in order to optimize performance and minimize quench risk.

The research was funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory.


Chan W. K., Schwartz J. (Department of Materials Science and Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695 USA). Three-Dimensional Micrometer-Scale Modeling of Quenching in High-Aspect-Ratio YBa2Cu3O7-δ Coated Conductor Tapes—Part II: Influence of Geometric and Material Properties and Implications for Conductor Engineering and Magnet Design.