123Fab #85

1 topic, 2 key figures, 3 startups to draw inspiration from

Last week, a team of Dutch researchers succeeded in developing a unidirectional superconductor. This approach could lead to a substitute for semiconductors and develop computers 300 to 400 times faster than those of today. More than just faster information transmission, the use of superconductors instead of ordinary semiconductors could save up to 10% of all Western energy reserves according to the Netherlands Research Council (NWO). They are also very valuable for the future in solving energy efficiency issues.

Superconductivity is a phenomenon of zero electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic fields that occurs in certain materials when they are cooled below their critical temperature. In other words, this creates very strong magnetic fields and ensures that no energy is lost when superconducting materials carry or produce energy. There are two types of superconductors: Low-temperature superconductors (LTS) are those whose critical temperature is below -196.2°C and high-temperature superconductors (HTS) are those whose critical temperature is above -196.2°C. LTS critical temperature is relatively close to absolute zero, which is a problem because materials have to be cooled with expensive technologies such as liquid helium cooling. Its scope is therefore rather limited when a large quantity of material needs to be cooled. On the contrary, HTS have critical temperatures above the liquefaction temperature of nitrogen. They can therefore be more easily cooled with the latter (LN2), as is already done in other sectors such as IT or food processing.

There are many diverse applications for superconductors. To begin with, for the energy sector, the use of superconductors has great potential along the value chain.

  • Conversion: High-temperature superconducting generators or engines are lighter and more compact than traditional ones and allow high efficiency.
  • Transmission: An average of 5% of the electricity consumed is lost during transport. Thanks to superconducting materials, and their resistance-free current conduction, higher energy yields resulting from reduced energy losses in are achieved.
  • Network security: Superconducting fault current limiters (FCLs) act as protective devices during power transmission, inserting an impedance into a conductor when there is a sudden surge of current on the transmission networks.
  • Storage: Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage (SMES) stores electricity from the grid in the magnetic field of a coil consisting of a superconducting wire with zero energy losses.

Other applications also exist, notably in health and transport and several technologies use the ability of superconductors to generate large magnetic fields. Indeed, superconductivity has played a key role in medical imaging as it is at the heart of MRI technology, providing intense, stable, and uniform magnetic fields. Superconductors can also replace conventional electromagnets in magnetic levitation trains (maglev), i.e. monorail trains that use magnetic forces rail to avoid energy losses due to friction with the rail. Last year, Chinese engineers presented a train of this type capable of traveling at 620 km/h.

However, several challenges remain to make superconductors the key to energy efficiency. First, superconducting wires and films are still expensive compared to conventional electrical cables because their manufacturing process is very complex. Indeed, HTS are ceramics, therefore difficult to manufacture and LTS are metals, easy to manufacture but difficult to cool. Moreover, the cooling infrastructure needed to exploit the capacities of superconductors is also expensive (even with liquid nitrogen for HTS).

Although the sector is not yet very mature, several large companies and start-ups are developing initiatives to overcome these limitations and benefit from this promising technology. Late last year, Nexans, a leading manufacturer of superconductor cables, installed and commissioned its technology for power grid system provider American Superconductor (AMSC) for Chicago’s Resilient Electric Grid project. In the same way, the startup SuperNode is developing superconducting cables to provide a medium-voltage direct current (MVDC) transmission system. One use case for the startup is to connect an offshore wind farm to the grid using superconductors as the mechanism of energy transfer. They make it possible to place renewable energy sources at the most strategic location without worrying about transporting the energy, since it is done without loss. Another example is the British company Epoch Wires, which manufactures patented superconducting wire. Their production process creates low-cost, durable magnesium di-boride superconducting wires that have the potential to provide superconductivity at temperatures of 40K (-233°C) for magnetic resonance imaging and power applications. For the cooling process, the startup Veir raised $10 million in funding last year to further develop a  cooling system for high voltage superconducting transmission lines.

The prospects for superconductors, studied since the 1980s, are significant and very promising. Its benefits could revolutionize the energy industry. Indeed, having a non-resistive conductor would save a huge amount of energy on the existing grid installation. They could also contribute to the development of remote renewable energy sources by ensuring lossless energy transmission. However, deployments remain limited today due to the cost of the infrastructure and the complexity of the large scale.

2 Key Figures

The superconductors market is expected to reach $8.78B in 2025 at a CAGR of 13.08%

The Business Research Company

+$100M raised in the last six years in the superconductor market


3 startups to draw inspiration from

This week, we identified three startups that we can draw inspiration from: SuperNode, Epoch Wires and Veir.


The Irish startup designs and delivers superconducting connection systems to connect renewable generation and increase grid interconnection in mature markets. It manufactures superconductor cables that can carry huge amounts of power in a much smaller surface area than conventional cables and require significantly less infrastructure, materials, and space.

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Epoch Wires

The UK startup is specializing in manufacturing superconductor wires using environmentally friendly, abundant, and cheap material, namely Magnesium Diboride (MgB2). The company’s patent-pending technology offers high capacity production of infinitely long wire at one of the lowest market prices.

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The US start-up has developed a passive evaporative cryocooling solution that enables reliable and cost-effective transmission of superconducting cables over very long distances. It provides 20 times more cooling power per kilogram of nitrogen flow than mechanical subcooling.

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