Close-up image of lab equipment

The SuperCurrent machine

A case study about the development of the SuperCurrent machine for characterising the performance of superconductor wires.

Background

When purchasing superconductor wire for our own internal projects, we identified that there just wasn’t enough information provided by the manufacturer about the wire’s performance at the operating conditions. This lack of certainty over the performance of the wire added risk to every research project. Quite simply, if the wire didn’t perform as expected, a lot of research and development time could be wasted. This was a problem the Robinson Research Institute believed it could solve.

What we delivered

We developed a SuperCurrent machine to measure the current capacity of superconductor wire at a variety of temperatures and magnetic fields. What was distinctive then—and still is today—was the ability to measure the anisotropic performance: capturing the variations in performance of the wire when the magnetic fields are applied in different directions.

Since then, we have made continuous improvements to the SuperCurrent machine and it now has a range of uses:

  1. To inform the Institute’s own projects—being able to accurately measure the performance of the superconductor wire means devices are designed to use wire efficiently.
  2. A publicly available database on the performance of wire has been created. System designers can use it to understand design trade-offs in how wire is used and the variations among manufacturers.
  3. Commercial measurement service—external clients who would like to have this data send their wire to the Institute for characterisation.
  4. The sale of complete instruments. The Institute will manufacture to order.

Challenges

The SuperCurrent machine required a bespoke magnet. We engaged HTS-110 Ltd to design and build the highest field magnet the company had ever manufactured.

The other key challenge was to cool the sample effectively. Because we needed to rotate the sample when testing its anisotropic performance, a cooling system couldn’t be attached to the sample. Our engineers developed a new system for circulating cooling gas through a heat exchanger and the sample space.

We keep working to improve the SuperCurrent machine’s capabilities, and are constantly extending the limits of temperature, magnetic field, and current.

Long-term partnership

The Robinson Research Institute and HTS-110 have been collaborating for more than a decade to push each other’s capabilities forward.