An Irish startup has partnered with CERN for development a new form of insulation for superconducting cables intended to accelerate the green energy transition.
The company, called SuperNode, invented energy transmission cables that can transmit enormous amounts of energy over long distances. Since the system requires less space and voltage than conventional copper-based cables, the environmental impact is reduced.
These advantages result from superconductivity. This phenomenon occurs when certain materials are cooled below their critical temperature – typically -180°C for high-temperature superconductors. As a result, superconductors can provide a high power density and no electrical losses.
To realize this potential, SuperNode needs unique scientific resources – and this is where CERN comes in.
“In its research, CERN pushes the limits of superconductivity to reach record energy levels and operates one of the largest vacuum systems in the world,” CERN’s Paolo Chiggiato said in a statement.
“In particular, to avoid collisions with residual gas molecules inside the accelerator, we have to achieve extreme vacuum values. Vacuum is also used at CERN as a thermal insulator for our superconducting magnets. We believe that this know-how can be successfully applied to evaluate the technological solutions proposed to isolate the superconducting cables developed by SuperNode.”
To test the technology, CERN will subject candidate materials to temperatures, pressures and environments that replicate the conditions the cables will be exposed to. CERN will also design and develop a novel test bench to validate full-scale prototypes. Ultimately, the facility will be installed at SuperNode’s Dublin headquarters – the European cryogenic center for superconductors.
A study commissioned by SuperNode found that an integrated pan-European energy grid could reduce energy costs by 32%. Credit: SuperNode
Collaboration with CERN caps a busy month for SuperNode. The company announced this last week that shareholders Aker Horizons and Dr. Eddie O’Connor had provided 16 million euros in additional money for the development of the technology. The new funding followed an earlier injection of 14 million euros made last year.
SuperNode CEO John Fitzgerald believes the addition of CERN to this mix will provide another boost.
“To meet the increasing demand for electricity, future transmission networks will need to reliably transmit electricity in large quantities over distances of hundreds of kilometers – connecting centers of consumption with often far-flung production areas,” he said.
“We believe that by working together, we can find innovative solutions to improve the world’s energy infrastructure. Without new grid technology, we cannot integrate the levels of renewable energy that governments around the world have been striving for, and we will not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
According to SuperNode, its system is more efficient, cheaper, and greener than any other viable alternative. Credit: SuperNode
The collaboration also comes at a historic moment for CERN. The lab has just taken its first steps towards building a 91 km long particle accelerator. The new system would more than triple the length of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – currently the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator – which will complete its mission around the year 2040.
The plans were announced amid growing competition for Europe’s leadership in the field.
The most notable rival is China, too wants to build the largest particle accelerator in the world. Malika Meddahi from CERN told AFP last week that “China is showing the same ambitions” as Europe.
“Let’s be vigilant and be sure we’re not on the verge of a shift in this hierarchy,” she said.
Some concerns were also raised about the huge cost of the new necklace. Critics fear that investments in basic research would be better invested in applied sciences. But the collaboration with SuperNode is further evidence that CERN’s work can lead to practical applications.