Superconducting tape could lead to lower-cost wind power

You may see smaller, more effective turbines.

Wind power is limited in part by how expensive it can be to make each turbine. You may need roughly a ton of rare earth metals per machine... and that adds up. It could soon be much less expensive, however. The EU-backed EcoSwing project recently upgraded a wind turbine in Denmark with superconducting tape that reduces the required amount of rare earth elements to as little as 1kg (2.2lbs). That not only dramatically reduces the costs (down from $45.50/kg to $18.70/kg), it reduces weight and size requirements. You can produce the same power for about half the weight and volume of a conventional turbine, the University of Twente's Marc Dhalle told Chemistry World.

The tape is made using a ceramic superconducting layer with gadolinium-barium-copper oxide, with a steel ribbon at its back and protection against metal poisoning through layers of magnesium oxide and silver. And cooling isn't an issue -- the EcoSwing team used the same sort of cryo-cooling you normally see in MRI scanners.

The technology is still in the experimental stage. The next step is a more aggressively designed turbine that takes fuller advantage of the lighter, smaller technology. The benefits for real-world use are already evident, mind you. This could lower the costs of building wind farms, and might lead to less obtrusive farms with smaller turbines. All told, it could make renewable energy more accessible.