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New research shows EU how to hit Kyoto target


High temperature superconductor (HTS) devices could help the EU reduce its CO2 emissions by up to 52 million tonnes, equivalent to 65 per cent of its Kyoto Protocol commitment.

Teemu Hartikainen, Jorma Lehtonen and Risto Mikkonen from Tampere University of Technology, Finland have worked out how much European GHG emissions would be reduced if these devices were introduced. Their findings are published today (23 July) in the Institute of Physics journal Superconductor Science and Technology.

Using HTS in motors improves their efficiency so machines use up less electrical energy, thus reducing the GHG emissions from electricity production. HTS devices can approximately halve power losses, as superconducting materials – unlike conventional devices – have practically no resistance, which is the property which causes energy to be wasted as excess heat. However, superconductors need to be kept cold so use up energy in refrigeration.

Risto Mikkonen and his team wanted to find out the efficiency level and power range that would be necessary for HTS devices to be competitive against conventional devices. Energy production is the biggest source of GHG emissions, so they focussed on this. They studied what would happen to GHS emissions from the Finnish electric power grid if all the existing conventional transformers, generators and synchronous motors (which deliver large amounts of steady power) in Finland were replaced by HTS ones, taking into consideration the production and consumption of electricity.

“To find out how competitive superconducting devices would be, we worked out their break-even power, using generally accepted economical and technological estimates, and carried out our GHG emission analysis,” says Teemu Hartikainen.

The break-even power is the minimum power needed for the devices to become commercially viable. Working at their calculated break-even power for HTS devices on the Finnish electric power grid, emissions could go down by the equivalent of 0.8 to 1.55 million tonnes of CO2 per year – which is one to two per cent of Finland’s total GHG emissions. Expanding the results to the whole of the EU, the reduction would be equivalent of 27 to 53 million tonnes of CO2, which is 33 to 65 per cent of the EU’s Kyoto commitment (to reduce GHG emissions by eight per cent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012).

The team used a market penetration model based on the write-off rate of present machinery, and calculated that it would take at least 20 years to achieve just half of this reduction potential. HTS devices are promising not only for environmental reasons but also are commercially attractive. Compared to their conventional counterparts, they are less sensitive to load variations, they are more stable, smaller, lighter and less noisy. These features would be especially useful for moving systems, like those on boats, trains or aeroplanes.

“Our results will interest device manufactures who are constantly seeking new developments in the electric power sector,” said the head of superconductivity unit at Tampere University of Technology, Risto Mikkonen. “Superconducting devices could help the EU reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases. Although it will take some time to introduce this new technology, the environmental benefits could accelerate its commercialisation.”

Michelle Cain | Institute of Physics
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