Superconductors to enable next-generation transit, energy transmission, and storage

The model offers economic and environmental benefits with respect to moving people, cargo, and energy.
Jijo Malayil
Clean energy with Hyperloop innovation
Clean energy with Hyperloop innovation


A quest to achieve superconductivity concerning the transmission of energy and transportation has always been bogged down by its high costs. A potential solution to this is now being put forward by a team of researchers from the University of Houston and Germany using superconductors to move people, cargo, and energy along existing highway infrastructure.

The concept proposed by the team not only promises to reduce the operating cost of each system but also devise a way to store and transport liquified hydrogen, which is widely considered to be one of the primary sources of clean energy in the future. "The liquified hydrogen would be used to cool the superconductor guideway as it is stored and transported, reducing the need for a separate specialized pipeline system capable of cooling the fuel to 20 degrees Kelvin, or minus 424 Fahrenheit," said a media release

The research by the team is published in the journal APL Energy

Magnetically levitating vehicles to revolutionize transportation

The concept flips the idea of magnetically levitating trains that operate on a magnetized rail, with superconductors placed in the train's undercarriage.

Embedding superconductors into the existing highway infrastructure and adding magnets to the undercarriages of vehicles lets such systems avoid having to cool the superconductors on each vehicle. The model relies on liquid hydrogen to cool the superconductors as it moves across the system, with "liquified nitrogen and a vacuum layer used to thermally insulate the liquified hydrogen."

According to the team, the model proposes vehicles with magnetized undercarriages enter the superconductor guideway, "levitating and moving at high speed to reach their destinations." Once these vehicles leave the guideways, they can continue their trips powered by traditional electric or internal combustion motors.

The "super system" allows travel at speeds of 400mph

Such a system can make air travel and traditional freight transport obsolete as the “super system” enables personal and commercial vehicles to travel up to 400 miles an hour. Scientists also express the potential to double the rate.

"Superconductivity has had such promise to transmit electric power without power loss, to power magnetically levitating, super-fast trains and for energy storage. But it has not been economically viable, which is why it hasn’t happened at a large scale yet," said Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, who devised the concept and is a corresponding author on the paper. 

The model has the potential to dramatically reduce the consumption of fuel or electricity. At the same time, the car or truck is placed on the superconductor guideway, "reducing both the cost and the environmental footprint."

The team is yet to completely resolve the technical and financial aspects of implementing such a system. According to researchers, combining transit and energy systems and using existing roadways would substantially lower the cost of any individual system. They hope its long-term economic and environmental benefits will outweigh the initial developmental costs.

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