Innovation and Technology

Here we go: Room temperature superconductors

In the world of electrical conductivity, resistance has been an unwelcome companion. This phenomenon, which converts electrical energy into heat, presents a pervasive challenge. Everyday encounters with this challenge, such as heating a laptop during extended use, underline the reality of energy loss due to resistance.

Superconductivity, first discovered in the chilly depths of liquid helium temperatures by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911, is the phenomenon where a material can conduct electricity without resistance. Imagine a world without the nuisance of electrical resistance, where power loss is a tale of yesteryears. The snag? Maintaining the extreme conditions required for superconductivity is like keeping a snowflake intact in the Sahara.

However, the advent of room-temperature superconductors, with the extraordinary ability to conduct electricity without resistance, promises to alter this landscape dramatically. If superconducting circuits were to power your laptop, it would not heat up during operation, thereby extending battery life and promoting energy efficiency.

While the potential impact on personal electronics is considerable, the transformative reach of superconductors extends far beyond individual devices. Many industries stand to be revolutionised, potentially heralding a radical overhaul of our global energy landscape.

This game-changing potential of room-temperature superconductors has been brought to the fore today by the ground-breaking work of researchers Sukbae Lee, Ji-Hoon Kim, and Young-Wan Kwon. Their new paper, “The First Room-Temperature Ambient-Pressure Superconductor“, heralds a seminal breakthrough in superconductivity.

Until now, the practical application of superconductors was limited by the necessity for extremely low temperatures – costly and challenging conditions to maintain outside of a laboratory setting. However, the creation of the first room-temperature superconductor changes the game. This paves the way for the widespread use of superconductors, promising to bring the benefits of superconductivity into our daily lives and revolutionising everything from personal electronics to global infrastructure.

The promise of a future powered by superconductors could signal the onset of a global energy revolution. With virtually no energy loss during transmission, superconductors could enable countries to become hubs of energy export, transmitting electricity directly across thousands of kilometres of superconducting cables. This could lead to a global price per MWh, as lossless electricity could span the globe, making electricity cheaper and more accessible.

Picture sprawling solar arrays in the arid deserts of Saudi Arabia, selling electricity to a house in the frosty depths of a Polish winter. The possibilities for renewable energy generation and global distribution are vast and exciting. Some arguments against solar and wind power – namely that the sun must be shining and the wind must be blowing locally to access power from these generaton assets – may be redundant, as power might be transmitted from wherever these weather conditions are occuring.

Turning to transportation, electric vehicles (EVs) stand at the forefront of the shift towards greener alternatives. Adopting superconductors could create lighter, more energy-efficient batteries, significantly extending the range of EVs and hastening our transition from fossil fuels. Given the current limitations of batteries, it may open up opportunities for electricity to be used in aviation.

Data centres, the powerhouse of our digital world, could also transform. These vast repositories of servers generate substantial heat, necessitating energy-intensive cooling systems. Superconductors could eliminate this need, leading to a dramatic increase in energy efficiency and a significant decrease in operational costs.

Superconductors are used in Magnetic Resonance Machines (MRIs). They currently require expensive and scarce liquid helium for cooling. Room-temperature superconductors could eliminate this requirement, significantly reducing the cost of medical imaging, potentially making MRIs much smaller and more accessible.

In digital currencies, Bitcoin mining is renowned for its energy intensity, mainly due to the cooling needs of servers. Introducing superconductors could dramatically reduce the energy expenditure associated with cooling, leading to more efficient mining operations and a significantly reduced environmental footprint.

Despite the challenges associated with producing these superconductors on an industrial scale and integrating them into existing systems, the potential rewards are monumental. The promise of a more sustainable and energy-efficient world makes this a compelling prospect, from revolutionising various industries to bringing about a global electricity revolution.

In the discourse surrounding environmental sustainability, two distinct narratives often emerge. On one hand, there are those who advocate for stringent restrictions and regulations in the name of environmental preservation. This group of unimaginative enviro-cultists tend to promote a narrative of limitation and constraint. On the other hand, there are those who champion human ingenuity and market-based innovation as the keys to addressing environmental – and most – challenges.

The former approach, while rooted in a concern for the environment, often overlooks the potential of human creativity and innovation. By focusing on restrictions and limitations, it risks stifling freedom, human progress and opportunity. It’s akin to placing a ceiling on human potential, advocating for a world of ‘less’ rather than ‘better’.

This approach can also fall into the trap of presenting environmental sustainability as a zero-sum game, where human progress must inevitably come at the expense of the environment. This can lead to policies that restrict economic growth and limit human opportunity, creating a narrative of sacrifice rather than advancement.

In contrast, the narrative of human ingenuity and market-based innovation recognises that solving our greatest challenges requires not less human endeavour, but more. It is through the continued application of our collective creativity, channelled by the forces of the market, that we can develop solutions to even the most daunting of problems. Room-temperature superconductivity serves as a testament to this truth. This breakthrough, the product of years of research and development, has the potential to transform our energy landscape, offering a glimpse of a future where efficient energy use and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. It is a shining example of how fostering innovation, rather than imposing restrictions, can lead to better outcomes for both humanity and the environment.

As we stand on the cusp of a golden age of technological advancement powered by room-temperature superconductivity, we look to a future where energy loss due to resistance is a thing of the past. In this new era, the promise of a sustainable, energy-efficient world isn’t a distant dream but an imminent reality.

Published by Constantine Frantzeskos

I build and grow global businesses, brands, and digital products with visionary marketing & digital strategy | Non-Executive Director | Startup investor and advisor | Techno-optimist