Superconductor technology to reduce the size and weight of motors, generators

Ship propulsion is returning to the absolute forefront of advanced technology. In a program with far-reaching implications--not only for future warships but also for the cargo, cruise ship, and conceivably even the electricity-generating businesses--the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) is testing a 5-MW, 23-ton superconductor ship motor and is also already well into the design of a full-scale, 36.5-MW superconductor motor.

The superconductor motors pack the same amount of power into a package that can be nearly 70 percent smaller and lighter than a conventional motor, even with all of the superconductor's attendant cooling systems figured in. That kind of savings is an enormous advantage on the high seas, where it would translate into more cargo space or ordnance-carrying capabilities, or, on a cruise ship, as many as 20 extra berths. As a bonus, the motor's efficiency also goes up by 1 or 2 percent, depending on the load--an improvement that in a high-power application like ship propulsion means hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel savings over the course of a year for a typical cargo ship.

The primary contractor for both superconductor motors is American Superconductor Corp., in Westborough, Mass., Responsible for producing the superconductor wire at the heart of the motors.

The 5-MW motor, built at a cost to the U.S. Navy of $8 million, was delivered last July and is now sitting in a test bay at the Center for Advanced Power Systems at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. For the next nine months or so, the motor will be pushed to the limit as tests are conducted in a dynamometer controlled by a real-time digital simulator. The results will be poured into the work now taking place under a $70 million Navy contract for the 36.5-MW motor.

If the tests of these machines fulfill designers' expectations, they could point the way to the first lucrative, large-scale application of the so-called high-temperature superconductors, referred to as HTS, discovered and unveiled in a stupendous worldwide media blitz 17 years ago. Although Sumitomo, Ultera, Pirelli, Southwire, and others have built and tested superconducting electric transmission cables in the years since, commercial sales have been modest so far.

American Superconductor Corporation has the accolade being named as a company that is responsible for one of the 6 worldwide products that has potential to transform major industries with its production of high temperature superconductors

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