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European Advanced Superconductivity Innovation and Training

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EASITrain (European Advanced Superconductivity Innovation and Training)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

Superconductivity, the capability of certain materials to transport electric currents without losses was discovered over 100 years ago. Yet, this elusive technology remains largely untapped. The barriers for wide-spread market adoption remain the limited understanding of how to apply the fundamental principles at engineering level and the capability to produce and deploy the technology at large-scale cost-effectively.

The greatest challenge that lies ahead for humankind is the effect of climate change. Putting energy efficient technologies on a fast track to market adoption is therefore a prime concern. Superconductivity is not only improving the energy efficiency of numerous applications at large-scale, but for certain use-cases it is the only feasible way. Examples include the generation of high magnetic fields for medical imaging devices (MRI), to analyse food and chemical compounds reliably and fast (NMR) and to treat cancer with beams of light ions. Superconductivity can also be an enabler for a high-performance and highly reliable electricity grid that spans the entire continent. Even so called “high-temperature superconductors” work at temperatures that are close to the absolute zero temperature. Therefore, the improvement of cryogenic refrigeration systems is paramount for the deployment of superconductivity at large. Such systems are also key elements in the hydrogen production chain, another eco-friendly technology. Different production techniques are required to create devices that use this leading-edge technology. The advances of those techniques have numerous additional potentials to improve our daily lives that this project analyses.

This project improves the understanding of how different superconductors behave under diverse operating conditions. This is a necessary step to increase the production yield and to lower the costs. The project also improves production techniques and raises the efficiency of cryogenic refrigeration systems. All activities are accompanied by an “open innovation management” that analyses the value chains of the production processes for the different superconducting technologies to assess the market potentials outside the core application fields.
Most important, this project trains the next generation of experts that are required to remain at the forefront of this technology in Europe and to increase its market penetration. It conveys researchers in this project the importance and tools for an open innovation process that eventually leads to a win-win situation for fundamental research and the society.
For niobium-tin based superconductors, this project has experimentally analysed the performance limitations of niobium-tin superconductors. This is an essential contribution, since it is the preferred material for next generation medical imaging devices, cancer treatment particle accelerators and industrial materials screening and analysis appliances. At the same time, research on improving the production yield of other types of superconductors to lower their costs and to make them fit for market-oriented applications is ongoing.

Superconductors are also used in radiofrequency applications, mainly for particle accelerators. Besides its use for research particle accelerators, the technology is important for more industry-oriented particle accelerators such as free-electron lasers and energy-recovery linear accelerators. The technology has also recently gained importance in the field of quantum computing as a possibility to store and manipulate more quantum-bits (“qubits”) than other technologies. The project has so far confirmed that the quality of the device relies strongly on the cleanliness and uniformity of the copper substrate. With proper surface preparation and avoiding micro-damages during the production process of the cavities the quality-drop at acceleration gradients can be mitigated. The characterisation and comparison of the approaches is in full swing. One company is currently analysing the results of strain tests with electrohydraulic forming of complex 3D structures with copper and niobium to develop a finite-element algorithm to optimise the quality of the shapes that can be produced.

For cryogenic refrigeration, the work so far focused on efficient cooling of high-field magnets on one side and on speeding-up the research on an energy-efficient refrigeration cycle based on a neon-helium (“nelium”) gas mixture on the other side. Both domains are connected to come to a total-cost-of-ownership optimised system. For the nelium process the goal is to demonstrate the feasibility through a test-rig. This infrastructure has been developed by the early stage researchers in the project, permitting now to gain an understanding about how to design the novel components that are needed to implement this refrigeration cycle. For the cooling of high-field superconducting magnets, the work concentrated on understanding the phenomena of the coolant in micro-channels that penetrate the device.
For superconducting wires based on niobium-tin the introduction of artificial magnetic flux line pinning centers has been confirmed as a viable method to significantly improve the performance of the material for high electrical current and high magnetic field applications. The results are picked up by other research facilities for the development of proof-of-concept wires. For other high-temperature superconductors, the main results so far are the demonstration of new characterisation methods, which are essential for a continuous production process with integrated quality management.

For superconducting thin-film based radiofrequency cavities, this project has confirmed the technical feasibility of producing high-gradient acceleration devices for particle accelerators at significantly reduced cost through ensuring that the cavity substrate is clean and damage free. The findings so far confirm that the key is a combination of three elements: a cavity production technology to avoid cracks during process, a cleaning process that removes residual scratches and permits good film adhesion and a film deposit process that is optimized for the specific surface preparation.

The economics analysis revealed that the technologies that are being developed are still underexploited today. Several applications with added value for the society have been identified. Two examples are:
- Large-volume, precision electric heat treatment can be used to separate precious materials in scrap-metal production lines to produce resources from waste in an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly way.
- Insulation raisins have untapped potentials in radioactive waste treatment.
Applications of superconductors have also been identified:
- Superconducting Rutherford cables can be used in hybrid electric ship and aircraft, leading to more environmentally friendly transport systems.
- The food market can profit from cheaper and more precise NMR systems for new markets such as quality management for high-priced vanilla and the avoidance of chicken culling through egg screening.
- Significant reduction of water consumption in large-scale industrial systems can be achieved through filtration based on high-field superconducting magnets.
- Superconductors with higher current density or which are lighter are enablers for compact and lighter particle accelerators that can be used for emerging light-ion beam cancer treatment.
ESR Linn presents market potentials of technologies at FCC Week 2019
Superconducting film production with magnetron sputtering at INFN LNL
ESR Jakub from CEA engages children in the physics of low temperatures during EASISchool 2
Superconducting cavity production at INFN LNL
The ESR project team at CERN
Selfie of ESRs with Nobel Laureate Georg Bednorz during EASISchool 1
Design of impeller for a novel turbo compressor for light gas mixtures