Warning: today’s posting might sound a bit technical for those of you out there without degrees in electrical engineering and/or particle physics.
However, bear with me for a few lines as I can assure you that today’s topic is really freaking cool, and will most likely transform your life in the years ahead.
Last week, an official from the Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry announced that they will develop a next-generation power transmission cable with practically zero electrical resistance.
In a word, we are talking about superconductivity.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Superconductivity is a phenomenon occurring in certain materials at extremely low temperatures, characterized by exactly zero electrical resistance and the exclusion of the interior magnetic field.’
If successful, the energy saved by the new cable would be equivalent to a reduction of about 10 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
Here is the coolest part:
The ministry will be working alongside Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the same people who brought you the Manhattan Project (aka the atomic bomb).
Confused yet? Keep reading and allow me to explain why the future is starting to look a lot brighter for all of us.
For starters, what exactly is superconductivity?
Good question – put on your thinking caps for a moment and let’s see if I can break this supremely complicated topic into more manageable chunks.
For starters, it helps to know that the resistance of a wire decreases gradually as the temperature is lowered.
In traditional wires made of copper, silver and even gold, there is still resistance even as the thermometer approaches absolute zero (the coldest possible temperature).
However, in materials such as tin and aluminum that have the capacity to act as superconductors, the resistance drops to near-zero once it is cooled beyond the critical temperature.
So, what does this mean?
Theoretically, an electrical current flowing in a loop of superconducting wire can persist indefinitely with no power source.
Practically, this means that your electrical bills will be a whole lot cheaper, and we can all start to feel a little bit better about our planet’s rapidly depleting resources.
So, when is this going to happen?
According to officials from the Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the goal is to have functioning superconductive cables by the year 2020.
At that time, it is estimated that Japan’s entire power transmission network will need to be replaced, though the hope is that antiquated copper wires can be swapped out for energy-efficient superconductive cables.
Presently in Japan, power cables are mostly made out of copper, and lose about 5 percent of electricity transmitted before it reaches its end power user.
However, if conventional cables are replaced with superconducting cables, the minisitry believes that transmission losses could be reduced to about 2 percent.
Although this may sound like a small reduction, we are talking about 20 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, or about 2 percent of all power generated in Japan every year.
That is a lot of neon-light to say the least!
Note: The crazy-cool picture at the top of the post is a magnet levitating about a high-temperature superconductor, cooled with liquid nitrogen.
** All images sourced from the Wikimedia Commons Project. **