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September 7, 2011 
Sutherland LTIle




It’s been 100 years since superconductivity was discovered, and researchers like U. of H's Dr. Venkat “Selva” Selvamanickam are finding ways to put the phenomenon to practical use. (Quick, someone think of a practical use for hover cars.)


Selva let us venture into his lab last week at UH's Texas Center for Superconductivity (housed in the College of Engineering). He claims the thin piece of copper-colored metal he's holding will change the world. He says 7% of electricity is lost in traditional resistant metals and aluminum lines on the grid, leading to “billions of dollars being lost.” Superconductivity can handle more current with zero resistance. (A wire with a pleasant disposition: charming.) Wind generators made with superconductive wires can handle more torque, which leads to less mechanical failure.

Sutherland Mini

2G High Temperature Superconductor wire is made of layers of materials. When the wire is cooled to temperatures near absolute zero it carries no electrical resistance. Superconducting loops of wire can carry electrical currents for several years with no measurable loss. Once the superconducting state occurs, very high magnetic fields can be generated. This could mean high-speed, magnetically levitated trains (you thought we were kidding about hover cars) and powerful, small, superconducting magnets for MRIs.

Selva says the challenge with the complex 2G wire is to be able to produce in large volumes while being cost competitive. The Research Hub is working to bring industrial leaders in the field to Texas to accelerate development of this emerging technology. Superconductivity, which also has implications for wind generators and magnetic energy storage, is being focused on transformers.


Yesterday, Rice faculty fellow Robert Vajtai, professor Enrique Barrera and grad student Yao Zhao announced they've created a conductive cable from iodine-doped nanotubes capable of carrying a household current. These cables made of carbon nanotubes are inching toward electrical conductivities seen in metal wires and could significantly impact a range of industries: subsea platforms, flight, and the electrical grid. See a video of their research here.

The conductivity-to-weight ratio (called specific conductivity) beats metals, including copper and silver, and is second only to sodium (except in taste). Yao, who recently defended his doctoral dissertation, is the paper's lead author. He built the demo rig that let him toggle power through the nanocable and replace conventional copper wire in the light-bulb circuit.


Got a big idea using nanotechnology for energy, life sciences, IT, or aerospace? Houston Technology Center VP Maryanne Maldonado (whom we snapped last week in her office) is a powerful ally. Named by Forbes as one of the 10 technology incubators changing the world, Maryanne’s team provides insight and access to capital that creative neophytes require to achieve commercialization. Maryanne's five criteria when considering a company: intellectual property, competitive advantage, scalability (ability to grow to $30M to $35M in sales), Houston-based, and coachability.

Maryanne has a team of Houston business experts that take young companies and raise them quickly to marketability. She also has many venture capitalists eager to back the program’s 25 to 35 energy companies, but she is quick to point out the HTC does not broker deals. She says each year, six to eight companies are accepted into her program while one or two graduate or go inactive. Click here to find out more about HTC’s Innovation Conference & Showcase in October.


If your company has a bright spot, tell us about it. Send story ideas to greg.miller@bisnow.com. We’d love to hear how you’ve got things wired.

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