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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Electricity storage capability taking massive leap

Superconducting magnetic coil technology to solve electricity storage problems, leaving battery advances in the dust


DALLAS, Aug. 31, 2010.  The senior director of marketing and government affairs for SuperPower, Trudy Lehner, announced today that it is one of three organizations being funded by the US Department of Energy (DoE) to co-develop advanced Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage Systems (SMES).  "This is something that isn't yet available," said Lehner, "a very aggressive project."
 
The funding of $4.2 million is coming as a grant from the DoE's bold new arm, the Advanced Research Project Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), to three organizations working together, ABB, Brookhaven National Labs and SuperPower, a manufacturer of superconducting wire, together with SuperPower's R&D group at the University of Houston.  
 
"We all know that renewable energy has a very large focus, not only in the US, but around the world," said Lehner.  "But the problem is that when that energy from wind or from solar is generated, it is not always at the same time it is needed by users.  So we need ways to be able to store that energy.  SMES will be able to store much larger amounts of energy than batteries and for longer periods of time."
This is novel technology, storing electricity from the power grid in the magnetic field of a coil that is made of superconducting wire with near zero loss of energy.  Lehner made her dramatic announcement by phone from her office in Schenectady, NY, on the ScienceNews Radio Network program, the Promise of Tomorrow with Colonel Mason.  "This is certainly a game-changer," a surprised Mason can be heard to respond, "we always thought the only solution was going to come from batteries and have been disappointed with their being so slow to develop."  The broadcast originates in Dallas, Texas, and can now be heard at the website, archived for its world audience.
 
Lehner admitted that the wire is currently quite costly, but said they are working with the University of Houston in developing a new type of wire to bring down the price.  
 
The three year project will develop a 20 KW ultra high field SMES device targeting a capacity up to 3.4 mega-joules at a field of about 30 Tesla, operating at around 4.2 degrees Kelvin.  It will have "instantaneous dynamic response and a near infinite cycle life," said Lehner.  
 
These dramatic advances will be a main attraction next month when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) unveils its world energy conference, styled Innovative Technologies for an Efficient and Reliable Electricity Supply, at a hotel in Boston September 27 - 29.  The public is welcome to attend by registering at the website.