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Ultrathin superconducting film might bring new aerospace and medical applications

07 julio 2017

ultrasound

A new superconducting nanomaterial has been developed by a research group led by Professor Uwe Hartmann at Saarland University, Germany. Besides conducting energy without loss below -200 ºC, as other superconductors do, this one is especially interesting because it is ultra-thin and as flexible as cling film, the one used for wrapping food.

A new superconducting nanomaterial has been developed by a research group led by Professor Uwe Hartmann at Saarland University, Germany. Besides conducting energy without loss below -200 ºC, as other superconductors do, this one is especially interesting because it is ultra-thin and as flexible as cling film, the one used for wrapping food. This makes it particularly suitable for new coating applications, from aerospace to medical technologies.

The developers of this new material recognise that is seems pretty unremarkable at first sight: it just looks like a charred black piece of paper. But it actually is a superconductor full of potential, as it has zero electrical resistance and can therefore conduct an electric current without any loss at -200 ºC or less.

 

Most superconducting materials developed so far are rigid, brittle and dense, which as a consequence makes them pretty heavy, and they need to get closer to the absolute zero to avoid all electrical loss. This one is a woven fabric of plastic fibre and high-temperature superconducting nanowires a thousand times thinner than human hair, resulting in a flexible film. "We have developed superconducting foils based on superconducting nanowire networks combined with a polymer, which can sustain the low temperatures required for the operation of the superconductors. The nanowire networks are prepared via the electrospinning method, which has already been widely used for polymer and ceramic oxide nanowire fabrication", explains Michael Koblischka, one of the members of the research group.

"The material is very pliable and adaptable. And, theoretically, it can be made to any size and it is cheaper to fabricate than other superconductors", says Uwe Hartmann, Professor of Nanostructure Research and Nanotechnology at Saarland University. "The production can be upscaled by the parallel use of spinning set ups to produce large-area samples. This is in this way not possible for any other method for the production of superconductor materials. The production can be arbitrarily uppcaled to prepare large-area samples, which is a big advantage of this approach, combining elements of nanotechnology with an already established industrial process", adds Michael Koblischka.

 

The low weight is another advantage of this film, with a density of just 0.05 grams per cubic centimetre, about a hundred times less than conventional superconductor materials. That is why it is perfectly suitable for space technology, where weight is such an important issue. Medical technology might also be a wide field of applications. "The most promising application would be the employment for ‘current limiters', which require a high critical current density and low weight. Other applications comprise ‘magnetic shielding', where foil-type samples are particularly suitable for the shielding of irregular shapes due to their flexibility", says the research team.

The research has been supported by the Volkswagen Foundation and the German Research Foundation. The research team is currently looking for commercial and industrial partners with whom develop this system for practical applications while working on further improvements. "An important step forward will be the use of a superconducting material with a higher transition temperature to enable a safe operation at 77 K. Then, many applications like a superconducting carpet, where magnetic objects can be levitated on, will become possible", concludes Michael Koblischka.

The PROTECT project is one of five selected in the most recent European call for proposals to develop pilot industrial projects based on nanotechnologies, advanced materials, advanced manufacturing and processing, and biotechnology, and the only one coordinated by an institution based in Spain. The programme, which is part of H2020, supports the development of technologies that underpin innovation in the European industrial sector, with the participation of large companies and SMEs.

Photo: Oliver Dietze / Saarland University

Image: Saarland University

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