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Superconducting naval motor project steams ahead

01 January, 2001

Superconducting naval motor project steams ahead

Sea-going trials of a ship propulsion system based on a superconducting motor could start within three years. This follows a decision by the US Navy`s Office of Naval Research to award a $1.6m contract to the American Superconductor Corporation (ASC) to design a 25MW HTS (high temperature superconductor) motor and to start building and testing its components.

The six-month project follows an earlier contract for a preliminary design of the AC synchronous motor. ASC expects to receive additional contracts within a year that could lead to sea trials, probably initially involving a smaller 3.7MW motor. ASC plans to start selling industrial motors of this size at about the same time.

By cutting losses dramatically, motors based on HTS technology could be a fifth of the size and a third of the weight of similarly rated conventional copper-wound machines. This could lead to radically different ship designs and to compact and quiet propulsion systems.

ASC has also announced that is collaborating with the US ship-builder Litton Ship Systems to apply HTS technology to commercial and naval vessels.

The global market for propulsion motors is already worth around $250m and is likely to grow rapidly if the HTS motors live up to expectations.

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