June 5, 2023

An Irish startup has teamed with CERN to develop a new form of insulation for superconducting cables, which are designed to accelerate the green energy transition.

Named SuperNode, the company has invented energy transmission cables that can transfer immense power across long distances. As the system requires less space and voltage than conventional copper-based cables, the environmental impact is reduced.

These benefits derive from superconductivity. This phenomenon occurs when certain materials are cooled below their critical temperature — typically -180°C for high-temperature superconductors. As a result, superconductors can offer a hefty power density and zero electrical losses.

To harness this potential, SuperNode needs unique scientific resources — which is where CERN comes in.

“In its research, CERN pushes the limit of superconductivity to reach record energy levels and operates one of the largest vacuum systems in the world,” said CERN’s Paolo Chiggiato in a statement.

“In particular, to avoid collisions with residual gas molecules inside the accelerators, we must reach extreme levels of vacuum. Vacuum is also used at CERN as a thermal insulator for our superconducting magnets. We believe that this know-how can be successfully applied to evaluate the technological solutions proposed to insulate the superconducting cables developed by SuperNode.”

To test the tech, CERN will subject candidate materials to temperatures, pressures, and environments that replicate the conditions that the cables will face. CERN will also design and develop a novel test rig to validate scale prototypes. Eventually, the rig will be installed at SuperNode’s Dublin headquarters — dubbed the European Cryogenic Centre for Superconductors.