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Eka’s Weekly Roundup (4 August 2023)
Issue 41 l Game changer for superconductors?
In late July, South Korean scientists reported a potential breakthrough in superconductors, claiming LK-99 as the first room-temperature superconductor (papers here and here). There is excitement and skepticism from the wider scientific community as researchers worldwide seek to replicate the experiments. The implications are material, from revolutionizing energy grids to advancing quantum computing.
Thinking through the potential of superconductors 🗞️
In late July, South Korean scientists reported a potential breakthrough in superconductors, sparking both excitement and skepticism among researchers worldwide who rushed to replicate the experiments. The holy grail of materials science is a superconductor that works at room temperature and ambient pressure, promising to revolutionize energy grids, enhance fusion energy production, advance quantum supercomputers, and usher in faster transport. Off the back of the report, many superconductor-related stocks saw rises in share prices.
As a reminder, superconductors are materials that can conduct electricity with zero electrical resistance when cooled below a certain critical temperature. This unique property makes them valuable for a wide range of applications. Some of the most significant uses of superconductors include:
Electric Power Transmission: Superconducting power cables can transmit electricity with minimal losses, leading to more efficient power distribution over long distances. This could help reduce energy wastage and increase the capacity of power grids.
Energy Storage: Superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) systems can store large amounts of electrical energy for extended periods without significant losses. They can be used to stabilize power grids and ensure a constant power supply during peak demand.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Superconducting magnets are crucial components in MRI machines used in medical diagnostics. They provide strong and stable magnetic fields for obtaining detailed images of internal body structures.
Particle Accelerators: Superconducting magnets are used in large particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to generate extremely high magnetic fields, guiding charged particles at high speeds.
Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) Trains: Superconducting materials enable magnetic levitation of trains, reducing friction and allowing for high-speed transportation with minimal energy consumption.
Fault Current Limiters: Superconducting fault current limiters can protect electrical systems from overcurrents and improve the overall stability and safety of the power grid.
NMR Spectroscopy: Superconducting magnets are employed in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy for research and analytical purposes, such as studying the structure of molecules and compounds.
Quantum Computing: Some quantum computing technologies rely on superconducting circuits, known as superconducting qubits, to perform quantum computations.
Sensors and Detectors: Superconducting sensors can be used in various fields, including geophysics, astronomy, and security applications, due to their high sensitivity to magnetic fields and other parameters.
Magnetic Separation: Superconducting magnets are used in industrial processes for the efficient separation of materials based on their magnetic properties.
It's important to note that superconductors typically require cooling to reach and maintain their superconducting state, which limits their widespread adoption and can add complexity and cost to certain applications (which is why this innovation is particularly exciting).
The LK-99 superconductor, claimed by the South Korean physicists, was uploaded as preprint research on arXiv, yet to undergo peer review and publication. They asserted that LK-99, a "modified lead-apatite structure" doped with copper, is the first room-temperature superconductor. Part of their evidence was a video demonstrating the compound levitating over a magnet, a characteristic of superconducting materials.
A room-temperature superconductor has significant implications, as it would eliminate energy losses during transmission and enable more efficient electronic devices. Current superconductors require extremely low temperatures or high pressures, making them impractical for widespread use. For example, the SCMaglev train in Japan relies on a superconducting niobium-titanium alloy cooled with liquid helium.
As for LK-99, replication attempts have been ongoing, but so far, some have failed to reproduce the results. The scientific process takes time, and conclusions should not be rushed based on preliminary findings. Further studies and verification are needed before any practical applications can be considered.
The Korean Society of Superconductivity and Cryogenics established a verification committee, which concluded that LK-99 is not a superconductor based on the absence of the Meissner effect, a characteristic of superconductors. Other research teams at various institutions, including Argonne National Laboratory in the U.S. and several universities in South Korea, are also trying to replicate the findings. Theoretical calculations from different institutions suggest that LK-99 could potentially be a superconductor at room temperatures, but this is yet to be confirmed experimentally.
In the midst of this, hobbyists and amateurs have been attempting to replicate the findings as well, with one individual, Andrew McCalip, documenting his attempts on social media.
Week in Impact Articles ✍🏽
3 Key Charts 📊
1. Emissions scenarios for the next 50 years
2. US’s nuclear energy mix is looking flat - but a new opening might change this!
3. Emitters across Europe concentrated in Germany with coal plants
Deal Capture 💰
Deals in the impact space across the UK and Europe
UK-based climatetech startup Adaptavate raised £2m. Led by Counteract.
UK-based femtech startup Bea Fertility raised a £2.5m. Led by Octopus, included JamJar.
German agtech startup Bind X raised E10m. Included HG Ventures and Saxovent.
German climatetech startup Ecoworks raised E22m.
UK-based EV startup EV Energy raised a $33m Series B.
UK-based biodiversity startup Revalue Nature raised $10m Series A. Led by EIF and SJF Ventures.
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