In a sense, unlimited energy is simply not possible with existing technology.
“Unlimited is not a good thing,” said Mike Auld of PSE&G. “In order to harness unlimited electricity, you need many different kinds of power.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, large-scale, high-temperature superconductors developed — and remain in use today — have been developed. The most common such superconductor is cerium oxide, which comes in the form of ceramic tile. And, in fact, cerium oxide is a good insulator, meaning its electrons are trapped very tightly.
But the material is not as practical as the more common niobium oxide.
“The reason cerium oxide isn’t feasible, is because it has a very high energy density — it can store a lot of energy,” Auld said. “But cerium oxide is extremely expensive, so you don’t have any incentive to build very large superconducting circuits.”
So, researchers are working on alternative materials.
“We are thinking about nanostructured materials that have very high energy density, that are very small. You could just take tiny pieces out of silicon and cobalt and put them down into an aluminum circuit,” said Auld. “And these types of things are being explored as superconducting materials.”
But, again, that technology might not work in the near future.
“If you think about the problem of high-temperature superconductivity, the key problem is this is not something you can just design,” said Auld. “Superconductivity has to be generated, so you have to try and create that energy.”
In fact, it’s not only the energy density that’s a problem with cerium oxide. The material can also be unstable. It was found to get unstable when exposed to high temperatures or temperatures under 1000 degrees Celsius.
“That’s a very, very high temperature,” said Auld.
And, while researchers have found ways to produce cerium oxide with lower superconducting temperatures, that doesn’t mean future research in this area will succeed.
“There’s a limit to what you can achieve,” Auld said.
That means it’s likely going to take a lot more research, and a lot more money, before we’ve reached the point where we actually see superconducting cerium oxide in our homes.
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