Room-Temperature Superconductor: Material Raises Hope of Energy Revolution, If Proven True

Author: Qinqie He, Katherine Aug 04, 2023 05:48 PM (GMT+8)

In recent days, a significant research breakthrough in room-temperature superconductors has captured the attention of the global scientific community.


On the morning of July 22nd, the research team from Quantum Energy Research Center (Q-centre) in South Korea progressively published two papers, claiming that a material named LK-99, a copper-doped lead pyrochlore, possesses "room temperature + ambient pressure" superconducting capabilities, making it the world's first room-temperature superconductor. However, the experimental data they currently presented has been questioned and deemed insufficient to prove LK-99's superconductivity. Multiple international research teams immediately initiated a "reproducibility wave," attempting to synthesize LK-99 through their own effort to validate its experimental results.

On August 1st, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in the United States published an article, providing a theoretical basis for the superconducting nature of the material LK-99 from the Korean research team. Meanwhile, the American company Taj Quantum claimed to have discovered another room-temperature superconductor material. In China, Huazhong University of Science and Technology (Chinese: 华中科技大学) took the lead in declaring a successful reproduction of LK-99's magnetic levitation experiment. A Bilibili content creator named "Guanshankou Male Technician" (Chinese: "关山口男子技师") uploaded a video demonstrating the spontaneous levitation of the sample in a magnetic field, with the crystal's levitation angle being larger than that obtained by the Korean team. The video received over 4.5 million views within a short span of 9 hours.

The tremendous interest and discussions surrounding room-temperature superconductors stem from the numerous profound impacts this technology could have if validated and implemented. Firstly, room-temperature superconductors could enable long-distance transmission of energy sources like solar and wind power, thus reducing energy transmission losses and costs, leading to a significant decrease in electricity prices. Secondly, the application of magnetic levitation technology could become a reality, revolutionizing the transportation sector. Moreover, room-temperature superconductors could find application in the acceleration field, including breakthroughs in controlled nuclear fusion and other major scientific and technological advancements. In essence, this represents a momentous proposition for the energy revolution.

It is important to note that the current research is still in the laboratory stage, and while the papers demonstrate the theoretical feasibility of room-temperature superconducting materials through computer simulations, there are practical challenges in synthesizing such materials. Currently, the materials do not meet the requirements for weak magnetic resistance and conductivity. As a result, room-temperature superconductors have not yet reached the stage of practical application, and scientists need to further dedicate efforts and time to validate and advance this technology.

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Currently, the superconducting industry mainly focuses on high-temperature and low-temperature superconductors. Low-temperature superconductors achieve superconductivity in the liquid helium temperature range, while high-temperature superconductors can be achieved using liquid nitrogen. Low-temperature superconductors were industrialized in the 1980s, finding applications in areas like magnetic resonance imaging. However, liquid helium is expensive and often needs to be imported. High-temperature superconductors overcome this limitation, offering the potential for commercial applications in various fields. In recent years, there have been significant breakthroughs in the field of high-temperature superconductors, particularly in terms of yield and cost improvements. This opens up more opportunities for the development of superconducting technology.

If the validation of room-temperature superconducting materials is successful, it will usher in a whole new material system. Taking the example of LK-99, the copper-lead material system developed by the Korean team, there are currently no companies directly applying this material in the market. Therefore, for beneficiaries of this technology, there are two categories of assets: first, the technological transfer from foundational teams, for companies that have achieved commercialization of high-temperature superconductors, accumulation may contribute to the industrialization of room-temperature superconductors. Second, downstream enterprises will directly benefit from the success of room-temperature superconductors, encompassing various application fields.

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Regarding the transfer of Knowhow from foundational teams, we should focus on companies that have already achieved commercialization of high-temperature superconductors, such as YongDing (Chinese: 永鼎股份) and JingDa (Chinese: 精达股份). High-temperature superconductors are copper-silver systems, and these companies' core barriers lie in their equipment, particularly the high-temperature superconducting material coating production line, which is highly independently developed and cannot be outsourced. With the accumulation of problems and formation of solutions in the process of high-temperature superconducting material productization, these foundational technologies are expected to be migrated to the industrialization of room-temperature superconductors, becoming core assets.

 In terms of applications, room-temperature superconductors hold vast prospects. For instance, in the field of online cables, room-temperature superconducting cables can save up to 70% of space in power transmission corridors and eliminate the need for substations, resulting in cost advantages, particularly evident in core urban areas. Currently, Shanghai and Shenzhen have constructed high-temperature superconducting cables, which operate well and save substantial costs. However, the production of room-temperature superconducting cables requires a large amount of materials such as copper and lead, potentially driving an increase in upstream strip production.

The field of magnets is also a critical application area for room-temperature superconductors. By utilizing room-temperature superconducting materials, the efficiency of magnet heating equipment can be enhanced, leading to significant savings in electricity costs, increased production capacity, and yield. This will have far-reaching implications for certain industries, with market expectations indicating a potential market size reaching billions.

Furthermore, room-temperature superconducting technology holds tremendous promise in the field of nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion offers high energy efficiency, environmental friendliness, and strong safety performance, but its realization conditions are quite stringent. The advantages of superconducting magnets lie in reducing volume and costs, thereby lowering the entry barriers for nuclear fusion technology, garnering widespread attention and investment in the field of nuclear fusion.

In conclusion, the advent of room-temperature superconductors will bring about revolutionary impacts on the energy industry and related supply chains. Although still in the laboratory stage, scientists and companies worldwide are striving to advance the development and application of this technology. As more achievements gradually materialize, the future of superconducting technology holds limitless possibilities. From technological transfer from foundational teams to downstream enterprises benefiting from room-temperature superconducting applications, the development potential in this field is immense, fostering significant impetus and transformation in the global energy and technology industries.