Diamonds may be forever but sapphire is the name of the game when it comes to the next generation of super-efficient electrical conducting wires.
Scientists at Tel Aviv University have developed a new superconductor made of fibers spun from sapphire crystals, which can transmit about 40 times more electricity than a copper wire of comparable size.
The new wire has the potential to push the price of renewable energy down by making it more economical to transmit electricity over long distances.
“Sources such as wind turbines or solar panels are usually located in remote places such as deserts or offshore lines, and you need an efficient way to deliver the current,” explained Dr. Boaz Almog of the TAU School of Physics and Astronomy in a state
Almog and Mishael Azoulay are part of a working group run by Professor Guy Deutscher at TAU’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy who developed the wires.
The new wires were developed partly at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee using sapphire fibers supplied by a company called Sapphire Systems. They are made from single crystals of sapphire strung together and glued in place with a specialized ceramic coating.
The end result is a flexible strand, like a string of nanoscale sapphire beads, just barely thicker than a human hair.
The TAU research team took the project a step farther by combining the fibers with a self-contained cooling system based on liquid nitrogen, which keeps the sapphire wire in a highly efficient superconducting state without overheating.
Aside from being an efficient conductor, the new wire takes up far less space, so in addition to long-distance transmission it could also be used for energy storage and grid improvements in tightly jammed cities.
Among the many other possible beneficiaries of the team’s new creation that comes to mind would be the hyper-ambitious international DESERTEC organization, which seeks to harvest massive amounts of solar energy in deserts and transmit it to population centers, for example from Africa to Europe.
Sapphire crystal fiber has been around for a while but until recently it has been an expensive, exotic material used in small amounts, for example in medical devices.
But advances in low cost production technologies has changed the equation, making the mass use of such fibers a potential possibility.
Tina Casey is a freelance writer based in Summit, New Jersey.