Superconductors That Can Keep The Juice Flowing

When a momentary sag in electric power causes the lights to dim, most people hardly notice. But tiny power glitches can cause thousands of dollars in equipment damage and lost production for companies involved in such delicate processes as making semiconductors or synthetic fiber. Now, Superconductivity Inc., a small company in Madison, Wis., has a way to use superconductors to bridge the gap when the power wanes.

Developed with the help of Richard A. Lundy, a former top researcher at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois who is SI's chief technical officer, the company's Superconducting Storage Device consists of an 18-inch magnet coil submerged in liquid helium at a temperature of 452F. Because superconductors eliminate resistance to electrical current, the device can store large amounts of energy indefinitely. It can kick in in less than 2 milliseconds, allowing critical manufacturing processes to ride through outages as short as 100 milliseconds.

The large-capacity devices cost $900,000 to $1.9 million. Early sales include an SSD being used at an IBM semiconductor plant in Fishkill, N.Y. According to SI, power companies in Brazil and France also have shown interest.

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