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Sapphire fibers carry 40 times more electricity than copper wire


September 9, 2011

Newly-developed superconductive sapphire wires are reportedly about to carry 40 times more electricity than traditional copper wiring (pictured)(Photo: Stefan Riepel)

Newly-developed superconductive sapphire wires are reportedly about to carry 40 times more electricity than traditional copper wiring (pictured)
(Photo: Stefan Riepel)

One of the limitations of traditional copper electrical wiring is the fact that the metal's resistance causes the wire to heat up, and some of the energy being carried through the wire is lost in the form of that heat. Wires made from superconducting materials, however, would have no resistance, so could transfer much more energy. While previous attempts at the technology have proven too fragile or expensive, researchers from Tel Aviv University have now developed a new type of cost-effective superconductive wire, that they claim can carry 40 times more electricity than copper wiring of the same size.

Earlier efforts at superconductive energy transfer have involved coating crystal wafers and magnetic tapes with superconductors, but were respectively too brittle and too expensive.

The Tel Aviv team instead created wires made from single-crystal sapphire fibers, which were then coated in a ceramic mixture. Each wire is slightly thicker than a human hair, and although they can transfer large amounts of electricity, they must be continuously cooled in order to remain in a superconducting state. That duty is handled by a self-contained cooling system, that uses inexpensive liquid nitrogen.

Dr. Boaz Almog, one of the scientists who developed the superconductive wires, believes that they would be ideal for delivering energy from remote renewable energy sources, or for deploying electricity throughout municipal grids.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

If your saving efficiency in current transfer how much are you using to produce and pump the liquid nitrogen ...


Hmmmm the capital cost // efficiency // overheads - running a comparative amount of power over say 1000Km.

Some numbers up front please?

Mr Stiffy

Why do you need wires to transmit commercial electricity when you could simply deliver a massive capacitor full every few seconds via a vectored arc (sorry Mr. Tesla, you were close). Repeaters when and where necessary.


Well- it\'s a nice idea, theoretically. But you aren\'t going to change infrastructures with any wires that must be cooled by any gases- cost would be astronomical.

No mention if the electrons act the same way they do in a real copper wire (ie: is current still conveyed for motors/electromagnetic use?), or is simply for transporting electrical energy from one spot to another?

Robert Volk

Drakesword: since several wires can be cooled at once, the cooling/volt could be pretty favorable. Of course, the huge problem with these lines is their performance in disasters: that much power would likely cause explosions if the line broke.

Charles Bosse

Given that superconductors do not produce heat when current is passing through them, and insulation is cheap, the cost of generating the cryogenic nitrogen is significantly less than than the cost of the line loss of even copper transmission lines.


hello. are you growing these sapphire crystals? is that what makes this attractive over the abundance of copper? in what way does this compare to encasing copper in ceramic and liquid nitrogen? perhaps such tremendous wastes of time and money will lead to the next step.


Re; rollzone

To get copper to superconduct you have to cool far beyond liquid nitrogen. The colder you go the more it costs. Additionally there is a limit to how much energy can be carries by a superconductor before it stops superconducting even when supercooled the sapphire might be better.


Hmmm.... sapphire, ultrastrong, relatively cheap. Liquid nitrogen ? solar driven stirling low vacuum refrigeration compressor/ evaporators systems in a line drop xfmr - xfmr system? The cooling\'s more esoteric than the sapphire Sconductors. It would be sensible to use this tech for substation transformers, but again...Liquid Nitrogen!

Gerard René Supersad

I had thought that high-temperature superconductors that only needed liquid N2 cooling were still very exotic and not ready for industrial use. Only having to go as low as liquid N2 is, according to my understanding, a big breakthrough. Previously it was all about liquid helium, I think, which really is way too cold to be practical.

Don\'t forget that the air is about 70% nitrogen, so the stuff is everywhere, just waiting to be separated, cooled down and used. I\'m guessing the money to be saved by even a small decrease in ohmic losses on a power line would more than pay for the energy, equipment and maintenance needed to liquify the nitrogen to do the cooling.


The objective has been to find a room temp superconductor, which seems as likely at present as the second coming. In the interim cooling to liquid nitrogen is is a great next best since liquid N2 costs something less than $2.00. The novel sapphire material is all synthetic and the current best available. More material science work to be done still! The next issue is that researchers are finally closing in on a reasonably functional THEORY of WHY & HOW superconductivity works. For the last 60 years they were really mostly guessing. Slowly, theory is yielding reproducible results which will in time show us better materials, maybe actual room temp suprC can be done? And, yes, something like this will permit a transformation of regional to local electrical grids. At some point it just will not matter where the electrons come from or where they sent to.


What is being missed by a goodly margin here is the fact that this new technology is only ONE part of the electricity delivery chain! How do you couple your power outlets to it or even to a step down transformer at a substation for that matter?? We have rather large copper bus bars that feed power to and out of the substations, so how will a super conducting sapphire filament interface with them? And the cost of that liquid nitrogen and the system it will require to make, store, transport and utilize will be cost prohibitive in the extreme. Why do these idiots (allegedly aspiring engineers and technicians) keep on coming up with crazy crapola like this? Can't they think in a straight line even to just the end of their own nose or what?!?! Add up all of the costs, crunch the numbers, and THEN tell us all how great of an idea it is, NOT before Sherlock Holmes!!

Your ever humble logician servant, Randy

Expanded Viewpoint

What a bunch of nay sayers,


There are clear needs for this type of service, specialized yes but needed. If the world worked the way most of the previous posts talked about "why", "expense" etc then we would all still be sitting in caves.

In some cases you can't just put more cable in, or its too heavy etc, there are a lot of engineering issues with trying to deliver 1 gigawatt of power anywhere. if you can transmit 40x more energy or make the same transmission system 40x smaller, lighter etc then sometimes its worth it because of the other costs, buying land, destroying houses, trenching or building towers, regulatory approvals etc. You use power right now reading this page. The data centers hosting this content need LOTS of power, less now then 10 years ago but still a LOT of power that is why Google, Facebook and others builds data centers near cheap power or cheap cooling or both.

To the poster about copper bus bars and interconnects the linked PDF shows how they tie the infrastructures together.

drakesword - if your using LN2 the costs are dependent on location but in general you can get gallons for dollars. Insulated well enough and there is little loss and you capture and re-compress it. Works like boiling water. you dont have to vent it and replace it that's just stupid. http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2007/KarenFan.shtml - $0.50 per gallon

Mr Stiffy - no one said this was going to replace all cable, just that is more efficient. sometimes inefficient is better, IE we use aluminum cable on most transmission lines not copper for cost and strength reasons. Makes them bigger, heaver etc.

Muraculous - lets sprinkle some magic pixie dust on it while we are talking about things likely to never happen in your lifetime, particularity if they didn't happen at least once in the last 100 years.

Robert Volk- talking moving current from point A to point B the most "EFFICIENT" way, as above its about $0.50 per gallon or so

Slowburn - thank you for some intelligent thoughts and not a rant.

Gerard René Supersad - LN2 is used all over the place its not exotic, just not common place in a home etc, for good reasons.

ralph.dratman - yep but LN2 is not exotic nor is superconductivity at that range, its been decades. but they are basically glass (ceramics) and fragile makes bolting two of them together a real trick

StWils - totally agree

Randy aka Expanded Viewpoint - JFGI before going down the path of how the heck are they going to use it. Trust me people will do it when money is involved. Look at the PDF link above for an example of how they use existing ceramic based superconductor, having more flexibility will make it easier, as will smaller plant sizes and the host of other improvements this could bring about.

Have a look at http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/122989-1-5-billion-the-cost-of-cutting-london-toyko-latency-by-60ms

let see using existing cables and costs people are going to pay $1500000000 for ONE cable to save 60 thousands of a second or 0.06 seconds, and they are going to build 3 for redundancy! $4.5 Billion! that's a LOT of money. So consider the world we live in depends on electricity and information and efficiency while it may have a huge cost its sometimes still the most practical and cost effective way.

Congrats to the flexible superconductors that may someday power the data centers providing content such as this site.

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