A ‘super’ material raises hopes for an energy revolution. Researchers create semiconductor at room temperature under extreme pressure

Scientists have discovered the first material that exhibits a highly desirable property at room temperature. It is superconducting, which means that electric current passes through it with perfect efficiency – without loss of energy in the form of heat.

Right now, a lot of the energy we generate is lost because of electrical resistance, which is lost as heat. Consequently, “superconducting” materials at room temperature could revolutionize the power grid.

a superconductor cooled with liquid nitrogen
a superconductor cooled with liquid nitrogen

Up to this point, achieving superconductivity required cooling materials to very low temperatures. When the property was discovered in 1911, it was only found near the temperature known as absolute zero (-273.15 ° C).

Since then, physicists have discovered superconducting materials at higher temperatures, but still very cold. The team behind the latest discovery says it is a research breakthrough that has lasted for a century.

“Due to the low-temperature limits, materials with such extraordinary properties have not transformed the world as many imagined,” said Dr. Ranga Dias, of the University of Rochester, New York. “However, our discovery will break down these barriers and open the door to many potential applications.”

Dr. Dias added that room-temperature superconductors “can definitely change the world as we know it”.

In the United States, power grids lose more than 5% of their energy in the process of transportation. Therefore, coping with this loss could potentially save billions of dollars and have an effect on the climate.

Scientists observed the superconducting behavior in a carbonaceous sulfur hydride compound at a temperature of 15 ° C. However, the property only appeared at extremely high pressures of 267 billion pascals – about a million times higher than that of typical tire pressure. This obviously limits its practical utility.

Therefore, Dr. Dias says the next goal will be to find ways to create room-temperature superconductors at lower pressures so that they are economical to produce in larger volume.

These materials can have many other applications. This includes a new way to power levitating trains – such as Maglev trains that “float” above the tracks in Japan and Shanghai, China. Magnetic levitation is a characteristic of some superconducting materials.

A 'super' material raises hopes for an energy
A ‘super’ material raises hopes for an energy

Another application would be faster and more efficient electronics.

“With this kind of technology, you can bring society into a superconducting society where you never need things like batteries again,” said co-author Ashkan Salamat of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

A University of Rochester researcher named Ranga Dias, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and physics and astronomy, worked with the team on the development of superconducting materials at room temperature. Currently, superconductors must be extremely cold to achieve superconductivity. The research team first created a superconducting material at room temperature.

Superconductors can operate without electrical resistance and without expelling a magnetic field. Dias says room-temperature superconductors are the “holy grail” of condensed matter physics. These materials could change the world according to the scientist.

The research team combined hydrogen with carbon and sulfur to create a fully chemically synthesized carbonaceous sulfur hydride of simple organic origin. The caveat with experience is that the material was created in a diamond anvil cell capable of placing materials under extremely high pressure. The material exhibited superconductivity at 58 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of about 39 million psi.

For comparison, the normal atmospheric pressure on the planet’s surface at sea level is only 15 psi. The next challenge for the team is to find a way to create room-temperature superconducting materials at lower pressures so that they are economical to produce in volume. Diamond anvil cells produce a small amount of material measured in picoliters, which is the size of a single drop of a printer inkjet particle.

There are a multitude of applications for superconducting materials at room temperature. Applications range from power grids capable of transmitting lossless electricity to a new way of powering levitating trains and other forms of transportation. Superconductors can also be used in medical imaging and scanning, as well as in creating more efficient electronic components for digital logic and memory devices.

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