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image European Research News Centre > Pure Science > Europe in the race
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image image image Date published : 24/02/03
  image Europe in the race
RTD info 36
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  Dozens of European academic and industrial laboratories have been working together for more than a decade on the challenges of HTS superconductors. The EU actively supports these joint efforts. Takis P. A. Ageladarakis, who is responsible for superconductive materials at Research DG, explains the thinking behind this choice of priorities.
   
     
   

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 applications?

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 what form?

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.

Contact:
Takis Ageladarakis, Research DG
panagiotis.ageladarakis@ec.europa.eu


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SCENET, 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:
http://www.maspec.bo.cnr.it/ut/d11200/research/euro.html

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An example of the operational use of HTS superconductivity at an electrical supply station in Copenhagen. NKT Cables installed three 30KV BSCCO superconducting cables. The new cables carry a current five times that of their traditional counterparts. For the first time, they have been supplying, since May 2001, electricity to 50,000 homes in a reliable, economic and efficient manner.

An example of the operational use of HTS superconductivity at an electrical supply station in Copenhagen. NKT Cables installed three 30KV BSCCO superconducting cables. The new cables carry a current five times that of their traditional counterparts. For the first time, they have been supplying, since May 2001, electricity to 50,000 homes in a reliable, economic and efficient manner.
Contact: Dag Willén,
NKT Cables (DK)

d.willen@NKT-research.dk

 


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