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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Indian-American engineer to transform U.S. power grid

Washington: Although the U.S. power industry is one of the greatest engineering marvels, ageing technology and an increase in demand are creating problems for the power grid that needs fixing. Now, an Indian-American engineer is set to transform the way power is generated.

Venkat Selvamanickam, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, is developing a technology with high temperature superconducting wires that is revolutionising the way power is generated, transported and used.

It is estimated that high-temperature superconducting wires could eliminate 131 million tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and offset the emission of the equivalent of 40 conventional power-generating plants.

"The country's electric transmission grid currently consists of about 160,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, with forecasters predicting an additional 12,900 miles needed over the next five years to meet increasing demand," said Selvamanickam.

"Superconducting power cables can transmit up to 10 times more power than traditional copper cables without the significant losses of traditional cables and are considered environmentally friendly," he added.

"The goal of my research is to modernise the power grid with high temperature superconducting wires to improve efficiency and reliability."

"Almost anything in the power grid -- cables, transformers, motors, generators -- can be more efficient if you use high temperature superconducting wires."

"Superconducting fault current limiters can enable uninterrupted power transmission when conventional circuits will otherwise succumb to outages in events such as lightning storms," said Selvamanickam, who did his B.E. (Honours) from Regional Engineering college, Tiruchi, India.

The applications for superconducting wires range from advanced medical imaging techniques like magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to large-scale applications replacing existing copper wires with superconducting wires to raise reliability and cut costs.

"High temperature superconductivity has the potential to revolutionise the way we use electricity, just like the way fiber-optics revolutionised the way we communicate," he said.

"Our research pays immediate returns to the industry. It's not like something that may be useful 10 years down the line," Selvamanickam added.

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