A researcher from the University of Cambridge, Judith Macmanus-Driscoll, said the team had found a simple and cheap method for increasing the amount of current flowing through superconducting-coated conductors in a magnetic field.

She added that there was immense potential for improvements to efficiency in equipment such as motors and generators – where high magnetic fields have traditionally diminished current densities.

In research reported in the journal Nature Materials, Macmanus-Driscoll and her Los Alamos colleagues discovered that when the compound barium zirconate is deposited simultaneously with the yttrium-barium-copper-oxide superconductor, it naturally forms nanoscale particles embedded in superconductor films.

The result is a two-to-five-fold increase in the current densities of coated conductors in high magnetic fields operating at liquid nitrogen temperatures.

How it works

Superconducting wires and tapes carry hundreds of times more electrical current than conventional copper wires with little or no electrical resistance.

"We are now beginning to understand how to control defects in these superconducting materials and use them to our advantage"

Dean Peterson,
Superconductivity Tech Center,
Los Alamos, USA

The technology is poised to bring substantial energy efficiencies to electrical-power transmission systems in the United States.

Much of the excitement caused by this discovery is due to the fact that the process can be easily and economically incorporated into commercial processing of the superconductors.

Uses

The advance is important for the development of powerful, energy-efficient superconducting electric motors and generators for civilian and military applications.

Dean Peterson, leader of the Superconductivity Technology Center at Los Alamos, said: "This is a significant technical advancement because it means we are now beginning to understand how to control defects in these superconducting materials and use them to our advantage.

"This was the first time we have been able to control the structural defects and in doing so, better engineer the material's structure to optimise performance."