Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Fred Strohl (strohlhf@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL selects two companies for superconducting wire development

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., July 26, 1999 — The Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has selected two companies to negotiate for development of a next generation of high-temperature superconducting wire for electric power applications.

Selected are Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, Inc., (3M) of St. Paul, Minn., and MicroCoating Technologies of Chamblee, Ga. They were selected as the result of an open competition conducted by ORNL's Superconductivity Technology Center. The three-year, $10.5 million effort includes financial support from DOE and private industry partners, who will provide at least 50 percent of the project costs. The superconductivity programs at Argonne and Los Alamos national laboratories will also participate. Both laboratories advised ORNL in the selection process.

Superconductors are materials that can transmit electricity with virtually no energy losses due to resistance. Superconducting wires can carry up to 100 times more electric current than conventional copper or aluminum wires.

The next generation of superconducting wires is expected to offer more substantial cost and performance advantages to the world's power equipment suppliers than does today's pre-commercial first generation powder-in-tube wires. Under DOE's second generation wire initiative, ORNL and other national labs are working with U.S.-based companies to resolve key scientific issues related to continuous processing of moving tapes to produce coated conductors.

"The key challenge of this effort is to achieve high quality continuous processing as we move toward a next generation of superconducting wire technology," said Bob Hawsey, director of ORNL's Superconductivity Technology Center.

Coated conductors have the potential for enabling the widespread commercialization of new types of power generation, delivery and end-use equipment, including power cables, transformers, motors, generators and current controllers. Coated conductors would use the superconductor yttrium-barium-copper-oxygen (YBCO) deposited on specially prepared templates called textured substrates.

Plans call for 3M to conduct research on substrate and deposition technology capable of producing wire hundreds of meters in length as opposed to the short centimeter lengths that have been used for testing. An electron beam coevaporation technique involves coating long lengths of buffered, textured metallic substrates with YBCO layers. The process is performed in a vacuum chamber. Long lengths of YBCO coated conductors will be provided to power equipment developers and national laboratories for further research.

"3M is pleased to have been selected to participate in the DOE second generation wire program," said Jonathan Storer, senior research specialist with 3M. "We feel that our breadth of technology and product commercialization makes us an obvious choice to develop coated conductors."

MicroCoating Technologies' efforts will focus on developing thin film coating processes for both the buffer and superconducting layers of the coated conductor. Its innovations include the open atmosphere, patented Chemical Combustion Vapor Deposition (CCVD) process for applying thin films to a variety of substrates, including metals, ceramics and polymers. The process can be used for a broad range of applications, such as architectural glass, fuel cells, electronics and corrosion resistant materials.

"We are excited and pleased at being able to demonstrate the feasibility of producing practical lengths of coated superconductors," said Dr. Shara S. Shoup, director of MicroCoating Technologies' Wire Division. "We look forward to working with our partners toward the goal of bringing superconductor technology into mainstream commercial production."

MicroCoating Technologies and its alliance partner, Oxford Superconducting Technology of Carteret, N.J., will provide long lengths of prototype wires to the national labs and to additional alliance partners, including Southwire Company of Carrollton, Ga., and Southern Company of Atlanta.

"Our technology has the potential to provide a superior, low-cost alternative to traditional vacuum-based superconductor manufacturing processes," said Dr. Andrew Hunt, chief executive officer of MicroCoating. "CCVD is also environmentally friendly and more flexible than competing fabrication methods. Along with our partners, we welcome the opportunity to potentially revolutionize the energy industry."

3M, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., is a world leader in industrial, health care, consumer, office and other major markets. MicroCoating Technologies is an Atlanta-based advanced materials company. Oxford Superconducting Technology is a leading manufacturer of both LTS and HTS superconductors for magnetic field applications.

ORNL is a DOE multiprogram research facility and is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.