SuperNode and Cern combine to improve renewable power transmission

Alliance could help establish an efficient supergrid using superconductor technology

SuperNode, the Irish company developing energy transmission technology, and the European Laboratory for Particle Physics known as Cern, have joined forces to develop novel insulation for superconducting cables, with a view to improving energy transmission and accelerating the renewable energy transition.

“We are thrilled to announce our partnership with such an esteemed and innovative organisation as Cern and are confident that it will help us to better develop our superconducting transmission cables,” said SuperNode chief executive John Fitzgerald.

If the alliance is successful it will enable the transmission of electricity over long distances using superconductor materials with no losses — and could be a key enabler in setting up a supergrid in Europe.

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“To meet increasing electricity demands, future transmission grids will have to reliably transfer bulk electricity over distances of hundreds of kilometres — connecting consumption hubs with areas of production, which are often located far away,” said Mr Fitzgerald.


“We believe that by working together, we can find innovative solutions to improve the world’s energy infrastructure. Without new grid technology, we cannot integrate the level of renewables governments across the world have targeted and we will not achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement,” he added.

“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 Paolo Chiggiato, leader of Cern’s vacuum, surface and coating group based near Geneva.

Hadron collider

It is a leading global facility in particle science and accelerator technology. It built the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the hadron collider.

“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,” he explained.

Under the agreement, Cern’s expertise in the areas of cryogenics and vacuum will be used “to test and analyse sample materials and subsystems for their suitability in SuperNode’s superconducting cable systems”. Candidate materials will be subject to temperatures, pressures and environments replicating those that subsea and terrestrial superconducting cables will face over their operational lifecycle.

Cern will also design and develop a state-of-the-art test rig for the validation of scale prototypes. An engineer from SuperNode will be trained at Cern to facilitate knowledge sharing between the partners. The bespoke test rig will ultimately be installed in SuperNode’s Dublin headquarters; the European Cryogenic Centre for Superconductors.

This collaboration is a significant milestone for SuperNode, as the company is committed to developing ground-breaking solutions for power transmission, addressing the world’s energy needs while minimising the environmental and carbon footprints of energy provision, said Mr Fitzgerald.

SuperNode, set up by energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor, specialises in development of innovative energy transmission cables, harnessing the characteristics of superconductive materials. Superconductivity is a phenomenon that occurs in certain materials when they are cooled below their critical temperature (typically minus 180 degrees). Their unique characteristics include zero electrical resistance, leading to zero electrical losses, and a very high power density.

Technologies and expertise

Superconducting cables are capable of transferring very large amounts of power efficiently over long distances in a much smaller surface area than conventional cables. They can also operate at higher currents and therefore lower voltage levels than conventional copper-based cable technology, meaning they require significantly less infrastructure, materials and space and have a smaller environmental footprint.

This project announced on Saturday stems from the Cern Innovation Programme for Environmental Applications, whereby its technologies and expertise are available for scientific and commercial purposes through a variety of technology transfer opportunities.

The Government last December indicated Ireland is to become a member state of Cern following a campaign over many years by leading Irish scientific researchers, who contended the return on the investment would be far greater than the annual cost of membership — with many high-tech opportunities for companies and research options for academics based in the country.

* Kevin O’Sullivan is co-author with Eddie O’Connor of ‘Supergrid - Super Solution: The Key to Solving the Energy Crisis and Decarbonising Europe’

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times