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ORNL, American Superconductor sign patent license agreement

The Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and American Superconductor of Westborough, Mass., today signed a non-exclusive patent license agreement covering a key component of high-temperature superconducting (HTS) wire technology.

Under the agreement, American Superconductor has licensed ORNL's patented R&D 100 Award-winning RABITS technology. RABITS (rolling-assisted, biaxially textured substrates) are special templates that enable superconducting materials to carry unprecedented amounts of electric current compared to conventional copper or aluminum wires.

This technology will allow for the more efficient transmission of electric power. An average of 7 percent of all electricity generated in the United States never reaches the customer because of inefficiencies in the transmission and distribution system. When fully deployed, HTS equipment has the potential to save more than $1 billion per year in electrical losses.

American Superconductor is the sixth U.S. company to license ORNL's RABiTS technology and is the world's leading producer of HTS wires for electric power applications.

RABiTS is a roll-textured and annealed metal tape covered with one or more oxide or metal buffer, or conditioning layers. The resulting tape is the template for the HTS compound yttrium-barium-copper-oxide (YBCO). RABiTS was developed through DOE's Superconductivity Program for Electric Systems and DOE's Basic Energy Sciences Program.

"This technology, invented by Department of Energy researchers, promises to open an entirely new chapter in superconductivity applications," said Ernest Moniz, undersecretary of energy. "The higher performance of electric wires manufactured by the new processes being developed under this public/private partnership will help allow the full benefits of superconductivity to be realized."

Bill Madia, ORNL's director, said the agreement shows ORNL is in the forefront of research into superconducting technology.

"This is a compliment to the work we have done at Oak Ridge related to finding more efficient ways to transmit electricity in the future," said Bill Madia, ORNL director. "We are excited to join forces with American Superconductor to accelerate the development of this new technology."

American Superconductor is also working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on another component of its HTS wire.

"The combination of our technologies with those of Oak Ridge and MIT gives us a very powerful commercial position in second generation HTS wire technology," said Greg Yurek, American Superconductor's chief executive officer.

Superconductors have virtually no resistance to the flow of electric current. Wires made from HTS materials superconduct at much higher temperatures than superconducting wires used in today's magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines found in hospitals nationwide. HTS wires may be at the heart of new 21st century electric power equipment, including transmission cables, transformers, motors, generators and current limiters being developed by ORNL, American Superconductor and their collaborating partners.

Bob Hawsey, manager of ORNL's Superconductivity Program, said the license agreement, along with supporting research to be provided by a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to be funded by American Superconductor, will pave the way for new electric power equipment and more efficient and environmentally responsible generation, transmission and distribution of electricity.

"I applaud American Superconductor's world-leading progress in second generation superconducting wire development," Hawsey said. "American Superconductor has deposited YBCO using its proprietary low-cost deposition process to achieve industry champion values of current density on ORNL's RABiTS."

The two organizations will be collaborating on the research necessary to scale up the technology from today's short laboratory-size samples to longer lengths required for applications. Ultimately, kilometer lengths of wire based upon ORNL and American Superconductor technology will be produced for commercial sale by the latter at its new facility being built in Devens, Mass.

American Superconductor officials participating in today's ceremony were Greg Yurek, president and chief executive officer; Alex Malozemoff, senior vice president and chief technical officer; and Frank Borman, former NASA astronaut and member of the board of directors. Yurek, a former researcher in ORNL's Metals and Ceramics Division, also presented a Lab-wide lecture following the ceremony.

There have been dramatic performance improvements since the RABiTS concept was first demonstrated. Today's laboratory HTS wire samples can carry up to 3 million amperes per square centimeter of HTS. Copper wire typically carries about 800 amperes per square centimeter.

American Superconductor was founded in 1987 and is a world leader in developing and manufacturing products utilizing superconducting materials and power electronic devices for electric power applications. The company's products and products sold by electrical equipment manufacturers that incorporate its products can dramatically increase the capacity and reliability of power delivery networks, significantly reduce the manufacturing costs of electrical equipment such as motors and generators, lower electrical operating costs and conserve resources that are used to produce electric power. 

ORNL conducts basic and applied research and development to create scientific knowledge and technical solutions that strengthen the nation's leadership in key areas of science, increase the availability of clean, abundant energy, restore and protect the environment and contribute to national security.