Enormous opportunities

  • Markets for superconducting wire are in many ways similar to early descriptions of the market for transistors. Today, transistors are ubiquitous, and are used in virtually every application that harnesses electricity. In a similar fashion, superdonducting wire has market applications that are virtually limitless. The fundamental value proposition of superconducting wire is the elimination of electrical loss, along with its accompanying heat, resulting in the efficient transmission of vast amounts of electricity using materials and equipment that are a fraction of the size and weight required for conventional copper wire electrical cables and equipment.
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As with any disruptive technology, the number and size of market applications for superconductivity relate directly to its cost. Initially, only the highest value markets have been penetrated. These applications would not exist were it not for enabling superconducting wire. As costs come down, the market applications grow exponentially. The ultimate highest volume market for superconducting wire is as a replacement for copper transmission lines. To achieve this goad, the DOE estimates that a cost of $50 per 1000 amp meter will be required. HTS wire is currently used in many applications currently served by LTS, 1G HTS and copper. Clockwise from upper right they are; transmission cable, transformer winding, motor rotor coil, fault current limiter coil, MetOx inspection magnet coil and current lead.

Superconducting Wire Market Overview

Low temperature superconducting (LTS) wire ($500 million annual market)


This older generation technology, which requires working temperatures close to absolute zero, is widely deployed in high value applications such as those listed below.

  • Scientific applications such as high energy physics and high field magnets
  • MRI, NMR, other medical diagnostic and imaging equipment

LTS wire is not expensive to manufacture, but its extremely high cost of operation, lwhich relies on difficult to seal super-cooled helium below 4F and ultra thermal shielding, has been a limiting factor to broad commercial adoption. Market size estimate is from the LTS wire manufacturer.

1st Generation HTS wire ($50 to $100 million annual market)

1st Generation HTS, based on BSCCO as the superconducting material, has higher production cost but much lower operationg costs than LTS wire; however, it is a poor superconductor when compared to 2G HTS wire. BSCCO markets are primarily research and demonstration related, although it has been used to develop prototype systems including those listed below.

  • Ship propulsion motors and degaussing cables
  • Electrical transmission in underground cables and de-bottlenecking
  • Electrical grid stabilization devices such as fault current limiters, synchronous condensers, power converters and power quality restorers
  • Billet induction heaters
  • Electric motors, generators and transformers
  • Maglev train propulsion and levitation

Certain applications, some included above, depend on the properties of superconductivity to operate. LTS is extremely expensive to own and operate so there is a limited (but real) market for high cost BSCCO based HTS wire in these applications. These applications include:

  • Fault current limiters for grid stabilization
  • Synchronous condensers for load leveling in high load industrial applications
  • Magnet leads to connect LTS based MRI and HEP systems to copper power leads
  • Specialty magnets for scientific instrumentation

Because BSCCO uses silver as the primary constituent, the cost of BSCCO is a limiting factor in its wide scale application. In addistion, the performance of BSCCO is greatly diminished in a magnetic field as compared with 2G HTS wire which is much less susceptible to performance reductions under similar conditions. The current cost of BSCCO is $180 kA-meter. Market size extimates are from DOE annual HTS wire meetings.

2nd Generation HTS Wire (Can quickly capture LTS and 1G HTS markets)

2nd Generation HTS superconducting wire markets can be segmented by cost/performance, as measured by the cost per 1000 amp meter of superconducting material ($kA-m). Currently, very limited quantities of HTS wire are being sold at a price of approximately $400 kA-m.

Wire length is also a driver for market applications. The highest volume superconducting wire applications require long lengths (250m+) of wire, although there are also numerbous applications which will be enabled with shorter (10m+) lengths of wire. Approximately 40% of HTS wire sold was used for the demonstration cable and equipment projects in the US. The remainiing 60% was sold to over 20companies for projects in eight countries. All of this wire was used for subsidized demonstration projects or for research purposes.

Cost competitive 2G HTS wire can quickly address the following large markets:

  • Electric Power applications include motors, transformer, transmission calbe, fault current limiters, electricity storage and grid stabilization
  • Commercial applications include solenoids, antennas, detectors, crystal pullers, magneto optical devices, geophysical magnetometers, separation, inspection, OC and commercial magnets
  • Medical applications include MRI, NMR and other imaging
  • Transportation applications include ship propulsion and magnetic levitation
  • Scientific applications include high energy physics, T&D, antennas, detectors, optics, MRI and NMR
  • Military applications include ship propulsion, power generation, launch systems, weapons systems, detection systems, mine sweeping and degaussing.

    Copper wire (Markets estimated at more than $20 billion per year)

    It is well known that the replacement of copper wire in electrical cables and equipment represents an enormous market opportunity. Copper is a commodity product so cost (price) and availability are the major drivers in this market. Copper has electrical loss and generates heat in operation so large colling systems are required in high power applications. It is believed that MetOx 2G HTS wire can eventually compete with copper on a cost per electricity used basis. In addition designers have the benefit of creating innovative coller, smaller and leighter electrical equipment that takes advantage of the unique properties of superconductivity such as extremely high magnetic fields. These markets are expected to expand exponentially to $100 billion/yr once a reliable and economical source of HTS wire becomes available.