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Products and solutions, 2010-03-18, 08:30 AM

Superconductors for renewable energies: ThyssenKrupp VDM and Zenergy Power get funding for research into innovative wire

Zenergy Power GmbH, supplier of superconductor technology for electric power utilities and industrial customers, has been granted additional funding to continue research activities in the field of renewable energies in collaboration with ThyssenKrupp VDM, a world leading manufacturer of high-performance materials, and three other research partners. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany's federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia allocated the grant for the development of techniques required for mass-manufacturing of low-cost superconductive wires for application, inter alia, in wind power generators.

The total costs of the project are estimated at € 1.5 million and public funding by North Rhine-Westphalia will amount to approximately € 860.000. Zenergy Power will receive a subcontract worth in excess of € 470.000 from ThyssenKrupp VDM within the framework of the 36-months collaboration. The project involves Aachen University of Technology, Bonn University and Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences to give scientific support to the industrial partners Zenergy Power and ThyssenKrupp VDM. The research project is focussed on superconductors which enable a virtually resistance-free flow of electricity at comparatively high temperatures. In the past, the very low operating temperature of superconductors in the area of minus 269 degrees Celsius ruled out many potential applications. High-temperature superconductors operating at minus 196 degrees Celsius and hence enabling cooling by e.g. liquid nitrogen were found only in 1986. Their ampacity is up to one hundred times that of conventional copper wires. The application of superconductors can therefore reduce both the size and weight of electrical machines while improving their energy efficiency.

Apart from its outstanding electrical properties, the band-shaped superconductor material must offer mechanical strength and longevity. These features can be achieved by a three-layer architecture: A metallic carrier tape is first coated with a buffer material on the surface of which the superconductive layer is then applied. The carrier tape is a foil of, at maximum, 0.08 millimetre thickness and made of a special nickel tungsten alloy developed by ThyssenKrupp VDM. The three-layer composite material is less than half a millimetre thick and up to 20 millimetres wide. The second-generation superconductive wire manufactured by Zenergy Power is expected to offer significant advantages for environmentally friendly electric power generation by enabling a cost-efficient production of superconductor based generators. These generators can substantially reduce the cost of renewable energy.

Dr. Jens Mueller, CEO of Zenergy Power, commented: “With the SupraMetall project we substantiate our target of reducing the production cost of second-generation superconductive wire. With our main partner ThyssenKrupp VDM, we focussed on the industrial feasibility of our wire technology from day one in order to introduce the most convincing solution for renewable power production and energy-efficient applications.” Dr. Jutta Kloewer, Head of Research and Development at ThyssenKrupp VDM, stated: “Becoming the supplier of structured nickel tape for this type of superconductive wire is an important step for ThyssenKrupp VDM. The move opens up further growth perspectives in energy industry procurement.”

The superconductive wire could prepare the way towards the electric power infrastructure of tomorrow. A conventional copper- or aluminium-based wind turbine with a generator weighing around 450 tons and a capacity of up to 6 megawatts costs about € 4 million. A modern superconductor-based wind turbine with a generator weighing only 120 tons and a capacity of up to 8 megawatts will be available for about € 1 million less. Apart from wind energy, there are further potential areas of application for superconductive wires e.g. in hydro power and wave power. Zenergy Power will supply essential components for the world's first superconductor based electric generator to be installed in an E.ON run-of-the-river power plant in 2010.

The new type of superconductive wire will swiftly replace first-generation superconductor material in existing applications such as Fault Current Limiters and Magnetic Heaters. The world's first industrial machine with superconductor technology, a magnetic billet heater for non-ferrous metals by Zenergy Power, was installed in Germany in 2008. Offering far better energy efficiency than conventional systems, the superconductor-based heater won the Hannover Fair Hermes Award in 2008, the German Environmental Award in 2009 and the Innovation Award Climate and Environment in 2010.

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