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Superconductors: hot lead for cold conductors

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Shut down all power plants and wind turbines in Rhineland Palatinate and Hesse in one fell swoop – this could be done if the electricity in our lines were to flow without losses. At the moment around seven percent of the total consumption of electrical energy is lost there as unused waste heat, caused by the electrical resistance of the cables.

A phenomenon has been known since 1911 that could save us this resistance: superconductivity. However, at that time the Dutchman Heike Kamerlingh Onnes had to dip his glass tube with mercury in liquid helium so that the metal loses its resistance. Liquid helium is minus 269 degrees Celsius – 4.2 degrees above absolute zero. Since then, superconductivity at ambient temperature has remained a pipe dream.

Things have changed since October last year. A superconductor manufactured by Ranga Dias from the University of Rochester in the north-east of the USA loses its resistance at plus 15 degrees Celsius.

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