World’s First Commercial-Scale HTS Motor

American Superconductor Corporation and Rockwell Automation, an operating unit of Rockwell International Corporation, have successfully operated the world’s first 1,000 horsepower (hp) high temperature superconducting (HTS) motor.

This new motor was designed to utilize HTS wires instead of copper wires on the rotating shaft of the motor. American Superconductor studies indicate the key benefits of using HTS wires are significant reductions in size and manufacturing costs of industrial and ship propulsion motors and increases in electrical efficiency.

Industry experts estimate that the current market for industrial motors with power ratings of at least 1,000 horsepower is approximately $1 billion per year worldwide. The market for electric generators over 30 megawatts, which involve the same fundamental technology as motors, is approximately $2 billion per year worldwide.

Large motors are the workhorses of industry. Today, conventional motors utilise approximately 25 % of all electric power generated in industrialised countries. The US Department of Energy estimates that higher efficiency HTS motors could save U.S. industry billions of dollars per year in electrical operating costs. These gains in operating efficiency also mean more power available for the new digital applications of electricity.

“Our HTS wires not only operate with higher electrical efficiency, they are able to carry more than 100 times the power of copper wires with the same dimensions,” said Greg Yurek, chief executive of American Superconductor.

“The higher power density of HTS wires is the basis for disrupting the global industrial motor business – making it increasingly profitable through reductions in motor manufacturing costs by 25 to 40 percent. These reductions are achieved through the implementation of innovative designs and reductions by up to a factor of three in the size of industrial motors – all made possible by HTS technology.”

The 1,000-hp motor follows demonstrations over the last decade of a series of HTS motors with ever increasing power ratings. Success of the 1,000-hp motor depended on the development of higher performance HTS wire and the creation of new designs for components of the motor.

The 1,000-hp HTS motor was developed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Superconductivity Partnership Initiative. The intention of the DOE program is the promotion of advanced high efficiency motors based on superconducting technologies.

American Superconductor has more recently focused on the design and development of HTS motors that fully leverage the higher power density of HTS wires. The company has already tested key components for its new, patented design for ultra-compact HTS motors. It believes these motors will be much less expensive to manufacture compared with conventional motors that use only copper wires and will be more energy efficient as well. American Superconductor expects to have its first 5,000-hp HTS ultra-compact motor ready for testing in the Spring of 2001.

It has already let contracts for manufacture of certain components of this motor, which it sees as the market entry point for HTS motors. The company is also working under a US.Navy contract on design concepts for 33,000-hp ship propulsion motors.

What are superconductors?

Superconductors are materials that carry large quantities of electricity with zero electrical resistance when cooled to very low, or cryogenic temperatures. While superconductors have been known for decades, the only commercial application until recently was in medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices. These devices utilize low temperature superconductor (LTS) wires.

In 1986, two IBM scientists discovered a new family of superconductor materials that still require cooling to cryogenic temperatures, but that operate at 5 to 20 times higher temperatures than the old LTS materials. The new materials, which are ceramic compounds, have become known as high temperature superconductors (HTS). The lower cost of cooling these new materials significantly enhanced the commercial economics of superconductor applications, and created the possibility of using high power density superconducting wires in electric power applications, such as power cables, motors and generators.

American Superconductor has over 200 patents, patent applications and licenses related to the manufacture of HTS wires and the applications of superconductors to electric power applications.

American Superconductor Corporation, headquartered in Westborough, Mass are at www.amsuper.com.