March 2000

ORNL, Southwire achieve superconducting milestone

ORNL helped the Southwire Company set technological history February 18 when the cable manufacturing company energized an electrical power cable utilizing superconductivity.

Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson moved three switches to convert the Southwire plant from a conventional power feeder to superconducting power feed. Three facilities at the 2,000-employee Carrollton, Ga., plant now receive electricity through a high-temperature superconductor (HTS) power system that was built and tested with the assistance of ORNL’s Superconductivity for Electric Systems program.

“We would not be where we are today without the valuable support of this project from Oak Ridge,” said Jerry Hesterlee, vice president of Southwire. “The folks from Oak Ridge and Southwire have worked closely for many years to get to this point.”

Southwire is the only U.S. company to have a superconducting cable that has been tested in a real-world industrial setting.
John Stovall, left of Energy Divison, provides Bob Bellenger, middle, and Darrell Piatt of Alabama Power a tour of the control room of Southwire's superconductivity cable test site in Carrollton, Ga.
Superconductors can transmit electricity through cables with virtually no energy losses to resistance. The power system uses liquid nitrogen at 70–80 Kelvin. Superconducting wires can carry up to 100 times more electric current than conventional copper or aluminum wires of the same cross-sectional area. With the world’s current power demand expected to double by 2030, superconductivity is expected to play a key role in power distribution and use in the next 30 years. Southwire projects the world market for HTS materials will be about $30 billion by the year 2020.

“This power source is an important breakthrough following boldly in the spirit of Thomas Edison,” Secretary Richardson said.

Roy Richards Jr., Southwire’s chief executive officer, lauded ORNL’s efforts.

“They have brought the real horsepower and creativity,” Richards said. “Their scientists have done a fine job for us. This technology will lead the world. This is the first lap in a long race of working with superconductivity, and we hope the folks at Oak Ridge will continue to work with us.”

ORNL’s contribution included the work of three divisions—Fusion, Life Sciences and Energy. ORNL and Southwire formed a cooperative research and development agreement in 1995 and began testing prototype cables one to five meters long.

“They (Southwire) built the cables and we tested them,” said John Stovall, ORNL’s project manager for superconducting cable. “We worked together to develop the new technology.”

The Fusion Energy Division developed the HTS cables and terminations and performed high-current and high voltage tests on the prototype five-meter cables at an ORNL test facility. The Life Sciences Division conducted high-voltage tests of the cable dielectric.

“You have to have electrical insulation that will work at cryogenic temperatures in liquid nitrogen at high pressure and at high voltage,” said Life Science’s Isidor Sauers, who worked on the project. “We used Southwire’s Cryoflex tape insulation for the testing.

Mike Gouge of Fusion Energy noted that the prototype cable for the Southwire facility was developed at the Fusion Energy Division facilities at the Y-12 Site. Southwire employees in the superconductivity area trained at Oak Ridge while ORNL personnel helped with 30-meter cable system testing and commissioning at Carrollton.

“It has been a pleasure working with a results-oriented company,” said Bob Hawsey, manager of ORNL’s Superconductivity program. “Southwire made development of superconducting cable knowledge a high priority from day one.”

Argonne National Laboratory also participated in the project. Industry partners included Intermagnetics General Corp and EURUS Technologies. Electrical utility partners were Southern Company, Georgia Transmission Corp. and Southern California Edison.

Richardson praised the partnership effort.

“Public-private partnerships are where the future is,” the secretary said. “They are good for the environment and the economy, and they create jobs.”—Fred Strohl

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