Big If Real: Navy Files Patent on Room-Temperature Superconductivity

A long-term technological holy grail is room-temperature superconductivity.  Normal electrical conductors have resistance, and convert part of the electrical energy that flows through them to heat, which is lost.  Superconductivity, a consequence of quantum mechanics, allows an electrical current to flow without any resistance at all, and would allow efficient transmission of electricity over long distances, more efficient motors, and magnetic levitation for devices such as high speed vehicles.

Superconductivity was discovered experimentally in 1911, but was not explained theoretically until 1957 by Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer, who shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in physics for their theory.  The early superconductors required very low temperatures to operate: on the order of the temperature of liquid helium (around 4° K).  It is very expensive to produce liquid helium and keep it liquid: while liquid nitrogen costs about as much as milk; liquid helium costs as much as Scotch whisky.

In 1986 two researchers at IBM Zürich, Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Müller, discovered that some ceramic materials became superconductive at around the temperature of liquid nitrogen (77° K).  They immediately won the Nobel prize for this discovery the next year, but to this day there is no satisfactory theory for how this high-temperature superconductivity works—it is a major unsolved problem in theoretical physics.  Milk is a lot cheaper than Scotch (you can buy as much liquid nitrogen as you wish at your local welding supply shop—just bring a thermos), and there are substantial technological applications of this phenomenon even though we haven’t a clue how or why it works.

But still, liquid nitrogen is messy to deal with.  The ideal would be a superconductor that worked at room temperature without the need for refrigeration.  That’s something you could potentially use to replace copper and aluminium wire in power lines and all kinds of electrical equipment, permitting transmission of power without loss and waste heat.  So far, this has eluded everybody who has attempted to discover it.

On 2019-02-21 a U.S Patent Application, US 2019/0058105 A1 “Piezoelectricity-Induced Room Temperature Superconductor” [PDF], was filed on behalf of the U.S. Navy which claims that by abruptly vibrating a conductor by means of pulsed power it is possible to achieve room-temperature superconductivity.  The patent application modestly notes,

The achievement of room temperature superconductivity (RTSC) represents a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology, rather than just a paradigm shift.  Hence, its military and commercial value is considerable.

There is a great deal of speculation in the patent application as to the mechanism which might cause the electron pairing that produces the superconductivity, but there is no specific claim of a mechanism.  No experimental data are presented to substantiate the claim of superconductivity.

Ratburger member and physicist Jack Sarfatti’s quick take, in an E-mail to his list of correspondents, is:

This seems consistent with my Frohlich pump proposal.
“An electromagnetic coil is circumferentially positioned around the coating such that when the coil is activated with a pulsed current, a non-linear vibration is induced, enabling room temperature superconductivity.”
The pulsed current coil is the resonant Frohlich pump.
 
The effective non-equilibrium temperature of the pulsed device is
 
T’ = T/(1 + k(pulsed current power)]
 
T is the ambient thermodynamic equilibrium temperature when the pulse is switched off.
 
Applying the pulse lowers the effective temperature to the critical temperature Tc for the onset of superconductivity (macro-quantum coherence).
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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

164 thoughts on “Big If Real: Navy Files Patent on Room-Temperature Superconductivity”

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  1. 10 Cents:
    Off the top of your head how much saving could be had with superconductivity? What is the average lost rate now?

    Resistive loss in long-distance (> 1000 km) power transmission lines is on the order of 3%.  This may not seem like much, but it amounts to more than US$ 10 billion per year in the U.S.

    But the impact of room temperature superconductivity would be far greater than for power lines.  For example (depending on the properties and limitations of the materials), it may be possible to make circulating-current magnets which were much cheaper and lighter than the permanent magnets used in generators and electric motors.  This would change the economics of wind power generation and motors for electric land and air vehicles.  If this is real (and I’m not saying it is—they presented no experimental data), then the important thing is understanding the phenomenon and seeing how it can be applied technologically.

    It’s entirely possible it might be real, but a curiosity that isn’t useful in technology.  But if it does work, it may be a crack in the door which may lead to other applications as people figure out how to apply it.

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  2. After a quick read, the patent application has a whiff of crackpot. There’s a bit too much woo-woo in it. Also, there’s no evidence that there’s been any actual reduction to practice, just constructive reduction to practice. I give it considerably less than 50% chance of being real: more likely in the cold fusion category.

    Even if it’s right, power is required to make it work. So while the conductor itself might be super, there is still dissipation in the pulsed power.

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  3. drlorentz:
    Even if it’s right, power is required to make it work. So while the conductor itself might be super, there is still dissipation in the pulsed power.

    PULSE THE PULSED POWER!  MOARR!

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  4. They also had a patent filing strategy that a private sector entity would not likely have used. I was surprised that they already had a rejection and filed a response in January.

    They filed the application in August, 2017 as a nonprovisional application. It was examined and initially rejected in November, 2018. The response was filed in January, 2019. The application published 18 months after first filing.

    Most private sector entities would have made the August, 2017 filing as a provisional application. Those are placeholders that do not get examined. They then would have filed a nonprovisional application just within the 1-year deadline of August, 2018. That nonprovisional application would likely just now be ready for examination. Such a strategy buys you more time to get supporting data either: to include in the nonprovisional application itself; or to have available when responding to the initial rejection.

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  5. ctlaw:
    They also cited their own publication: https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/abs/10.2514/6.2019-0869

    Oh…my…goodness.  Take a look at that paper (emphasis mine).

    Abstract
    The subject matter of this paper describes the design of an active room temperature superconductor, to be incorporated within the Hybrid-Aerospace-Undersea Craft (HAUC), described in a recently published paper – Pais, D., “A Hybrid craft using an inertial mass modification device,” AIAA 2017-5343 conference paper AIAA SPACE Forum, 2017.  It is envisioned that the electrically charged outer surfaces of this craft, which under accelerated vibration allow for inertial mass modification of the HAUC craft, are of the room temperature superconducting type.

    Did you catch that—“inertial mass modification”?  That’s essentially the Bergenholm inertialess drive of “Doc” Smith’s Lensman universe.  Inertialess drive has been a staple of flying saucer literature since the 1940s, as an explanation for the amazing maneuvers UFOs are said to perform.  It, of course, violates conservation of mass, conservation of momentum, the equivalence principle of general relativity, and many local speed limit laws.

    Then there’s the “HAUC craft” which, if you expand out the acronym, means “Hybrid-Aerospace-Undersea Craft craft”.  Well, there’s a UFO connection there also.  In Gerry Anderson‘s television series UFO, there was Skydiver, a Hybrid-Aerospace-Undersea Craft (which did not, however, use an inertialess drive).

    So, the U.S. Navy is developing a flying submarine with an inertialess drive using room-temperature superconductors.  And this is a paper they cited to show this patent application is not crackpot.

    U.S. citizens, that’s your tax dollars at work.

    “Never invest in something that violates a conservation law.”

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  6. ctlaw:
    @johnwalker, did the paper mention anything about ending global warming, toxic masculinity, or white privilege?

    I think it is wrong that white light should have all wavelength in it. This has come from prejudice. I think someone should set up a Refractions Commission to deal with this.  /sarcasm

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  7. Makes you think the Navy is trolling the Patent Office.  Or trolling the rather large segment of the world’s population that continues to have magical ideas about technology.

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  8. 10 Cents:

    ctlaw:
    @johnwalker, did the paper mention anything about ending global warming, toxic masculinity, or white privilege?

    I think it is wrong that white light should have all wavelength in it. This has come from prejudice. I think someone should set up a Refractions Commission to deal with this.  /sarcasm

    I stand against white light privilege. Lasers are pure, only one color, and hence fit to be part of the Herrenvolk Herrenfarben.

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  9. Phil Turmel:
    Makes you think the Navy is trolling the Patent Office.  Or trolling the rather large segment of the world’s population that continues to have magical ideas about technology.

    Maybe the Patent Office can go back to issuing patents for perpetual motion machines.

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  10. drlorentz:

    ctlaw:
    In asserting that it is not crackpot, the Navy cited a recent third party publication; https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.122.027001 IMHO, they really failed to establish the technical and legal relevance.

    In defense of this citation, it’s not unreasonable to connect high pressures with PZTs. The PZT could be producing high pressures in the invention, thus justifying the connection to the PRL paper.

    Correct. But a private sector applicant would likely be required to exhaustively establish the relationship.

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  11. Even if it’s right, power is required to make it work. So while the conductor itself might be super, there is still dissipation in the pulsed power.”

    This is not a major problem in principle. The Frohlich effect requires external pumping to lower the effective temperature in the non-equilibrium state. There is no reason to assume apriori, that the external pump power costs will negate the benefit of room temperature superconducting currents.  It’s way too soon to rush to judgement. There are results reported to me by Michael Fechner at Max Planck Institute in Hamburg that may be similar to this one. All this requires careful scrutiny.

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  12. Oh…my…goodness.  Take a look at that paper (emphasis mine).

    AbstractThe subject matter of this paper describes the design of an active room temperature superconductor, to be incorporated within the Hybrid-Aerospace-Undersea Craft (HAUC), described in a recently published paper – Pais, D., “A Hybrid craft using an inertial mass modification device,” AIAA 2017-5343 conference paper AIAA SPACE Forum, 2017.  It is envisioned that the electrically charged outer surfaces of this craft, which under accelerated vibration allow for inertial mass modification of the HAUC craft, are of the room temperature superconducting type.

    Did you catch that—“inertial mass modification”?  That’s essentially the Bergenholm inertialess drive of “Doc” Smith’s Lensman universe.  Inertialess drive has been a staple of flying saucer literature since the 1940s, as an explanation for the amazing maneuvers UFOs are said to perform.  It, of course, violates conservation of mass, conservation of momentum, the equivalence principle of general relativity, and many local speed limit laws.”

    Exactly, that is not a good sign I agree. However, the two issues

    1) externally pumped non-equilibrium really high temperature superconductors

    2) claims of inertial rest mass reducton

    are completely unrelated to each other.

    The Alcubierre warp drive paper (toy model) is about timelike geodesic warp drive. The inertial mass plays no role whatsoever because of Einstein’s equivalence principle as John points out. Also, reducing rest mass would release enormous energy like in a fission and/or fusion thermonuclear device as John also pointed out. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROJ8hQBDHJM

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  13. drlorentz:

    “ctlaw:In asserting that it is not crackpot, the Navy cited a recent third party publication; https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.122.027001 IMHO, they really failed to establish the technical and legal relevance.

    In defense of this citation, it’s not unreasonable to connect high pressures with PZTs. The PZT could be producing high pressures in the invention, thus justifying the connection to the PRL paper.”

    Yes, I agree, I had the same thought.

     

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