Searching for 'superconductivity'
on the European research projects database on the Cordis server
will return hundreds of results. Is this abundance of material due
to a deliberately targeted policy?
In the late 1980s, the rising potential of a new
generation of HTS superconductors was arousing worldwide interest.
Superconductivity constituted a priority field, necessitating the
pooling of trans-disciplinary resources and efforts at a European
level. This required the support of the EU’s R&D programmes
and, hence, the first 'Joint Community Action on Superconductivity'
was launched in 1988. Its aim was to provide a strong impetus to
and enhance the visibility of a scientific domain where multidisciplinarity
required a major boost. Throughout the last three Framework Programmes,
a continuous series of European projects – concerned with
the study of both fundamental and applied aspects of HTS in the
fields of information technology, materials and energy – have
been supported via a range of specific programmes.
What are the main lines of research supported
by the Union in the field of HTS materials – seen as potentially
crucial to the future of superconductive applications?
In recent years, some 22 specific projects, bringing
together more than 80 public and private research laboratories,
have sought to develop new HTS materials or improve the performances
of existing ones. Efforts concentrated both on BSCCO compounds,
which are 'riper' for applications, but also –particularly
under the last Framework Programme – on the optimisation of
the most potentially impressive YBCO compounds. In both cases, the
improvement of materials went hand-in-hand with the development
of various high-tech and innovative processes ultimately geared
towards manufacturing low-cost, high-performance HTS conductors.
At the same time, continuity has been a key concern. We wish to
make sure that every project benefits from the results obtained
by others whenever possible, while respecting fully the boundaries
of intellectual property rights. We also want to ensure that the
know-how of laboratories and researchers is constantly enriched
and exploited to the full.
When will we see pertinent results and fully-fledged
Results are already available! Of course, we are
still at the pilot-test stage in most cases. For the BSCCO family
though, Europe and the rest of the world are now developing HTS
tapes measured in kilometres that are beginning to find commercial
applications. Take the example of the world’s first trial,
carried out by the Danish company NKT Cables, to use superconducting
cables in a public electrical supply grid in Copenhagen. On the
other hand, operational YBCO conductors – by far the most
promising in terms of superconducting performance – are still
being produced only at 'laboratory' lengths. Nevertheless, their
industrial prospects are surely promising in the longer term. The
Union has supported projects that included a demonstration application
using YBCO materials. This demonstrative dimension is clearly a
major attraction for industrial players, and they are, indeed, actively
involved in nearly all the projects we support.
But to return to the subject of 'conclusive
applications', what kind of revolution are they likely to bring?
Clearly, the day we have HTS superconductivity
with fully-fledged applications at our fingertips, we will witness
enormous technological and economic changes in widely differing
fields. At that point – and this brings us to the heart of
the increasingly important dialogue between 'Science and Society'
– the research and hopes of scientists who are working on
mastering the techniques of superconductivity will have to be explained
and presented much more intensively to the citizen.
Will Union-backed research on superconductivity
continue throughout the Sixth Framework programme and, if so, in
The new Framework Programme – with its two
principal instruments: integrated projects and networks of excellence
– no doubt calls for more imagination on the part of the scientific
community and industrial players involved in research on superconductivity.
Contrary to past practices, the R&D players will have to present
more structured initiatives. They should be based on long-, medium-
and short-term prospects in the fields in question, whether these
are new knowledge-based materials, processes, or technologies for
the information society, energy or sustainable development arenas.
The new programme is, in fact, very open to the technologies of
the future. But its aim is to create targeted co-operation on a
larger scale by demonstrating the capacities that Europe can attain
through increased investment in these fields.
A command of HTS superconductivity is a genuine
global contest in which the United States and Japan are particularly
active challengers. How is Europe placed – and how is it co-operating
– in this race?
Naturally, there is a competitive dimension to
this race that requires a high level of multi- and inter-disciplinarity.
With its high degree of excellence, Europe is, indeed, well positioned
in this race.
As with all challenges linked to knowledge advancement,
we should encourage relationships of exchange and open co-operation
between competitors. This is even truer of superconductivity since
it has been chosen as a pilot case for scientific and technological
co-operation between the Union and Japan. To this end, the high
level joint workshop held on this subject in 2001 at Tsukuba in
the Japanese archipelago was a very rewarding meeting at which researchers
from both sides were able to take stock of the 'state of the art'.
Another framework for international exchange
is the SCENET-2 thematic network, set up with the Commission’s
support. This platform of pan-European excellence is a bridgehead
that maintains on-going relations with the best research centres
in this field, whether in the United States, Japan or Russia.
Takis Ageladarakis, Research DG
the European superconductivity area
The idea gained ground
during the Fourth and Fifth Framework Programmes: How
to establish a link between the many European research
projects which, each in their own corner, are working
on developments in superconductivity? The answer came,
first in the field of information technologies, with
the creation of a 'thematic network' known as SCENET
(Superconductivity European Network) that started to
serve as a platform for exchange and information between
researchers active in this field, with the Commission's
support. In 1998 the network was extended to include
research on 'materials for energy'. 'Maintaining contacts
between nearly 80 university laboratories, public research
centres and high-tech companies located in the 15 Member
States and six other countries – Bulgaria, Israel,
Hungary, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland – SCENET
is the veritable backbone of the European superconductivity
area,' stresses Panagiotis Ageladarakis. 'The Union's
support for this thematic network has been renewed until
2006. It plays an essential role as a forum enabling
all the parties to exchange their experiences –
in particular by organising training – as well
as their visions of the strategy required for Europe
to be a player in this field.'
To find out more: