March 29, 2023

Scientific breakthrough can make batteries last longer. they understand

US scientists say they have produced the first commercially accessible material that eliminates energy loss as electricity travels along a wire, a breakthrough that could mean longer-lasting batteries, more efficient power grids and improved high-speed trains.

Materials that can carry electrical currents without loss – so-called superconductors – have been highly elusive because they normally need to be extremely cold, around -155°C, and subjected to extreme pressure to work.

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Now, a team of researchers at the University of Rochester reports that they have created a new superconductor that can operate at room temperature and much lower pressure than previously discovered superconducting materials.

The discovery has the potential to create lossless electrical networks and better, cheaper magnets for use in future nuclear fusion reactors, among other things, according to Ranga Dias, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and physics at the University of Rochester, who led the discovery.

This is because perfect pipelines operating in everyday ambient conditions do not require large, expensive cooling systems. “We could magnetically levitate trains on superconducting lines, change the way electricity is stored and transported, and revolutionize medical imaging,” Dias said.

Superconductors exhibit what physicists call the Meissner effect, when a material repels its own magnetic field. If you put a superconductor near a magnet, it will levitate, he added.

In 2020, his team reported that they had created a superconductor made of a combination of hydrogen, sulfur and carbon that worked at about room temperature.

The problem is that it only worked after being laser-cooked and crushed between the edges of two diamonds at a pressure greater than that found at the center of the Earth, in a device known as a diamond anvil.

For the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the researchers tweaked their superconductor recipe — adding nitrogen and a rare-earth metal known as lutetium to the hydrogen instead of sulfur and carbon — and once again heated it up. and pressed it into the diamond anvil cell.

They named the resulting material “reddmatter,” after noticing how the hue of the material changed from blue to pink to red as it was compressed. The nickname, Dias said, was inspired by the fictional substance that forms black holes from “Star Trek.”

The Rochester lab found that “red matter” could exist at 20.5 °C and a pressure of 145,000 psi – about 1/360 the pressure at Earth’s core. There was thus an increase in temperature and a drop in pressure of about 1/1000 compared to its 2020 predecessor.

“These results are a major breakthrough for the scientific community, made possible by strong chemical intuition. [do Dr. Dias]said Stanley Tozer, a researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University in Tallahassee, who was not involved in the research.

Graduate students work to create and analyze new superconducting materials in one of the Dr. Days at the University of Rochester (Image: J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester)

While it’s still far from the pressure people experience at sea level — about 15 psi — the new pressure is in “a range where engineers can jump in and make a commercially viable product,” Tozer said, adding: “Makes superconductivity commercially available.”

Engineers and materials scientists can achieve pressures of around 145,000 psi using specialized techniques and instrumentation involved in chip manufacturing and diamond synthesis, for example.

“We will have devices with superconducting elements within the next five years,” said Ashkan Salamat, co-author of the study and a physicist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

This means our phones and laptops will need less electricity to run and won’t waste energy as heat, providing longer battery life. The same components could be incorporated into electric car batteries.

Salamat said superconductors operating at everyday temperatures and pressures could also help tackle issues such as climate change.

“A superconducting grid can store solar or wind energy, for example, indefinitely and transmit it over long distances without loss,” he said.

The US Energy Information Administration has estimated that 5% of electricity, on average, was lost during transmission and distribution in the country between 2017 and 2021.

More efficient energy storage and transport means less energy use overall, which reduces carbon emissions. Superconductors could also pave the way for better, cheaper machines that can drive nuclear fusion — long seen as a potential source of clean and virtually limitless energy, Salamat said.

Nuclear fusion reactions, which combine atoms and release vast amounts of energy in the process, do not create radioactive waste or greenhouse gases.

Many fusion machines rely on magnetic fields to limit reactions – and superconductors can create some of the strongest fields. The problem is the bulky and expensive cooling apparatus required to keep these superconductors cool.

Dias said a superconductor like reddmatter, which creates a huge magnetic field at room temperature, could be a game-changer in the next decade for efforts to build fusion reactors.

Non-invasive medical imaging could also benefit from superconductors operating at near-ambient conditions, Salamat said.

Most MRI machines rely on superconducting magnets, which are produced by passing an electric current through coils of superconducting wire, creating a magnetic field.

These coils are cooled using liquid helium – a scarce and expensive resource that limits where MRI systems can be housed, Salamat reports.

A room-temperature superconductor could enable smaller, more portable MRI machines that don’t need to be kept cool.

Now, these are pretty big engineering feats, and they won’t happen tomorrow. But these come in the next decade or so as a result of this discovery and others like it.

Ashkan Salamat, co-author of the study and a physicist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

While Dias’ research is promising, some of his team’s previous work has been targeted by other scientists. The 2020 study, detailing another room-temperature superconductor, was retracted by Nature last year after other researchers were unable to reproduce the results and questioned the validity of the data showing the Meissner effect in the material.

Dirk van der Marel, a physicist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland who was not involved in the new research or Dias’ other work, was among those who raised questions about the 2020 data.

Dias said the retracted paper was resubmitted to Nature after he and his colleagues collected new data in front of other scientists at Argonne and Brookhaven National Laboratories in Illinois and New York, respectively.

He added that his team made all data available to “reddmatter” during the peer review process for the new paper.

While van der Marel said the new study seemed to sufficiently demonstrate the effect on “reddmatter,” he said he felt “extremely uncomfortable with the whole thing.” “Similar problems may be lurking” in the data, he added.

The idea that superconductivity is possible at room temperature with hydrogen-rich materials has been supported by other groups, said Russell Hemley, a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was not involved in the new research but has collaborated with Dias on other projects.

“Therefore, these results should not be questioned, even if there are concerns about the way the data was presented in their previous paper,” he argued.

For his part, Dias said his team is already trying to tweak the “red matter” recipe to try to achieve superconductivity at even higher temperatures and lower pressures.

One idea is to add other rare earth elements similar to lutetium to the mix, although those rare elements are expensive, Dias said. He hopes to try a different approach – perhaps aluminum with something else – that is cheaper to manufacture and can mimic the effects of lutetium.

The team will begin using machine learning to curate its next superconductor recipes. They are training algorithms on data from this new work and previous experiments to help AI better predict which combinations of hydrogen and other elements could produce superconducting materials.

“It’s remarkable that Mother Nature allows us to use different pathways to reach these remarkable superconducting states,” Salamat said, adding that reducing the pressure to zero is the team’s next goal.

Dr. Dias said he is confident the breakthrough is coming: “it’s just a matter of time.”

Via the Wall Street Journal

Featured image: Shutterstock

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