Friday, June 21, 2024

Making Superconductors An Affordable Reality

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Superconductors may eventually replace bulk magnets in equipment like electric motors, MRI scanners, and CT scanners… But they need to be made affordable.

The problem is that conventional high-temperature superconductors require a protracted and difficult manufacturing process and are constructed of pricey rare earth metals. Due to its small weight, low cost, and ease of fabrication and complex form moulding, magnesium diboride (or MgB2)-based superconductors are now receiving more attention.

Previous studies have demonstrated that producing MgB2 with nanoscale boron yields improved magnetic properties. Commercial nanoscale boron is pricey, though. Consequently, a cheap approach of boron nanoscale refinement is required. Now, a group of researchers from Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT), under the direction of Professor Muralidhar Miryala, have found a solution to this issue by describing a brand-new, affordable, and effective method for refining boron.

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The group employed a method called ultrasonication, which uses ultrasound vibrations to stir up the particles in a sample. They started by adding distilled water to commercially available crystalline boron. Then, 20 kHz ultrasonic sound waves were applied to this. To determine the optimum exposure time, the researchers experimented with different exposure times for the crystalline boron. The contaminants, microstructure, and magnetic characteristics of the resulting superconductor samples were examined.

“We found that our samples of MgB2 were around 95% pure, which is much higher than the ball milling method that only produced 75% purity. The samples had a refined microstructure and had a 35% improvement than other methods. All of this was achieved with only 30 minutes of ultrasonic treatment”, says Prof. Miryala.

This makes the new ultrasonication technique, which uses pure water instead of pricey ingredients, very effective for purifying boron. It lowers the manufacturing cost of MgB2 superconductors while enhancing their magnetic properties. According to Prof. Miryala, “Although ultrasonication as a method has been explored before for refining, previous attempts have used ethanol or hexane. This increases the cost of the process. The use of distilled water brings down the cost while still being as good or even better than the previous mediums.”

Overall, this discovery is a significant step toward making superconductors widely accessible for use in electronics. The research also highlights the ultrasonication technique, a new technology that is still being developed. “This new approach will open up more study possibilities. According to Prof. Miryala, further researchers can work on optimising this technology to fully realise its potential and use it in their respective domains. The researchers are sure that their discoveries will quickly lead to the development of affordable superconductors.


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