ued strong federal investment in basic and applied research, that position would change. The panel concluded that the United States was poised, with strong processing and manufacturing capabilities and a growing talent pool, to capture a substantial segment of the superconducting market.
The mechanism for superconductivity in high-temperature superconductors (HTSCs) remains a very active research issue, although the technological breakthroughs made possible by the 1986 discovery are only beginning to be seen. There are both economic and military needs that are driving superconductivity research. In particular, the U.S. electricity supply system needs modernization and expansion to meet the needs of a growing economy and population. HTSC power technologies could play an important role, and electric utilities and large equipment manufacturers are planning R&D as well as installing and operating first-of-a-kind prototypes on their systems. Importantly, government funds are matched equally by private funds in the United States, which greatly increases the activity level. Similar pressures from growing electricity demand that might drive HTSC R&D here do not exist in Japan or Europe.
After it became apparent that wire technologies had to come first, the DOD reduced its R&D but closely tracked progress related to power applications. That changed with a 2002 determination by DOD that the second-generation (2G) wire being researched by DOE was “the critical component for several defense applications that require high electrical power and are essential to the national defense.” Since then, DOD has participated with DOE in pilot-scale manufacturing for 2G wire. DOD also recently funded development of superconducting motors for ship propulsion and superconducting generators for airborne weapons use. The defense market, while relatively small compared with the commercial power market, is becoming an important driver of research.
The United States has been at the forefront in elucidating fundamental HTSC physical properties and has enjoyed leadership in synthesis and processing, with Europe and Japan also mounting strong efforts in these areas. Modeling of flux pinning and other phenomena that affect magnetic and electrical properties continues to be a vital area for research worldwide. The discovery of new HTSCs has slowed, and the materials discovered in the 1980s remain important worldwide, even though materials with higher transition temperatures (Tc) have been found. The grand scientific challenge has become to discover room-temperature superconductors, which would have enormous theoretical implications and would broaden technological applications beyond those now possible with HTSCs.
First-generation (1G) HTSC wires were successfully developed in the early 1990s and sold in the United States and Japan. European companies also developed manufacturing capability, and a Chinese company was recently established