Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Ultimate Surge Protector

On Aug. 14, 2003, more than 40 million people were plunged into darkness when electrical service failed in large portions of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and Ontario, Canada. Though many workplaces ceased functioning without electricity, New York City’s emergency medical services had to deal with a doubling of call volume during the 29-hour blackout, according to a 2006 report in Prehospital and Disaster Medicine.

Cardiac and respiratory complaints increased, likely due to commuters being left without subway transportation or elevators, according to the report. Paramedics responded to a large number of heat-related medical calls because air conditioners could not function. Ambulances struggled to navigate streets that lacked functioning traffic signals and were crowded with commuters walking home.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is supporting a technological advance that could reduce the chances of similar blackouts occurring in the future. The Directorate’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) helped fund the development of an electrical cable that could be used to link substations, providing backup sources of electricity in the event part of the grid experiences an outage. The Resilient Electric Grid project will help ensure the nation’s utilities can withstand power surges that cause blackouts.

According to Sarah Mahmood, program manager for HSARPA, electric utilities have hesitated to connect substations in the past. Although one substation can compensate for another’s outage if the two are linked, there is a downside to building an interconnected grid. If an equipment failure, terrorist attack, or lightning strike causes a power surge, also known as a fault current, that fault current can cascade through the grid and knock out every substation and piece of equipment connected to the problem site. Part of the Resilient Electric Grid project is the development of a superconductor cable designed to suppress fault currents that can potentially cause permanent equipment damage. This technology will allow electric companies to link substations without running the risk of fault currents cascading through the electric grid. “This will help [first responders] by keeping that backbone [of the electric grid] up and running,” Mahmood said.

In 2007, HSARPA awarded a contract to American Superconductor Corporation to develop an inherently fault-current limiting high-temperature superconductor cable (IFCL-HTS), also known as Secure Super Grids, which was the first of its kind. A superconductor offers no resistance to electricity flowing through it, thus eliminating power loss incurred with regular wires. In order to do this, however, the superconductor must be super cooled to -460°F. According to Jason Fredette, director of corporate communications for American Superconductor, when a large fault current travels through the grid, the superconductor cable heats up and stops conducting, effectively suppressing the power surge. “The wire itself can act as a smart switch,” Fredette said.

What makes IFCL-HTS cable unique is that it operates at a higher temperature than traditional superconductors, -320°F, which makes it more practical for use. American Superconductor and its partner Southwire Company developed a 25-meter IFCL-HTS cable that was tested at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in 2009. According to Dr. Christopher Rey, senior staff scientist at ORNL, the lab plans to test an improved version in the near future.

In addition to preventing surges, the IFCL-HTS cable can improve electrical service to dense urban areas, according to David Lindsay, director for distribution engineering at Southwire Company. Superconductor cables can carry up to 10 times more electricity than a typical copper cable, and superconductor cables transmit electricity with near zero resistance. The added capacity and efficiency is useful for large cities such as New York, where electricity demand is rising and underground space to run additional cables is limited.

The fault current-limiting superconductor cables are best suited for urban markets, according to Lindsay. In rural areas, he explained, it would likely be more affordable to use overhead power lines and other solutions to suppress power surges. As developmental testing of the cable concludes, HSARPA will explore the possibility of installing the IFCL-HTS technology in a selected location in the electric grid for an operational demonstration, according to Mahmood.

Another aspect of DHS’s Resilient Electric Grid project focuses on developing a stand alone fault current-limiting device that can be installed anywhere on the existing electric grid, according to Mahmood. DHS is collaborating with Silicon Power to develop a Solid State Current Limiter. A semiconductor switch in the device suppresses power surges in electric cables. The technology would allow utilities to incorporate surge protector capabilities into the infrastructure without replacing current cables or existing protection schemes. DHS is scheduled to hold a demonstration of that technology’s key elements at the KEMA, Inc. testing facility in Chalfont, Penn. in the fall of 2010.

These solutions would protect critical infrastructure dependent on electrical power from blackouts that not only threaten safety, but commerce as well. Power outages cost the nation approximately $100 billion a year, according to HSARPA. Having a resilient electric grid will protect Wall Street and other financial centers from power outages, according to Fredette. “If New York City goes black, that damages our economy,” he said. “This project employs superconductor technology to protect our nation’s financial centers.”

For more information on HSARPA, visit For more information on ORNL, visit

The latest issue of the R-Tech Newsletter is posted at . This link provides access to past issues of the newsletter, as well as the opportunity to subscribe to future issues.

The newsletter is part of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s First Responder Technologies (R-Tech) outreach program to federal, tribal, state, and local first responders. R-Tech’s mission is to protect America against terrorism, disasters, and all other hazards by providing first responder solutions for high priority capability gaps due to technology and assisting first responders through rapid prototyping, technical assistance and information sharing. For more information, please visit R-Tech’s Website,

John Verrico | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht New method increases energy density in lithium batteries
24.10.2016 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

nachricht 'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
18.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>