A group of Japanese scientists has revealed details of a new, simple superconducting material, magnesium diboride, a magnesium/boron compound. The material transforms to a superconductor at 40oK (-233oC), twice the temperature of the best known metallic superconductor and four times as high as the commonly employed low temperature superconductor, niobium-titanium.

While the transition temperature for magnesium diboride is much lower than that of current high temperature ceramic superconductors, 110oK, its material properties may prove more amenable to fabrication for superconducting applications. Although the research into this material is still at an early stage, some scientists are hopeful that it will provide a step forward for superconducting applications.

US company American Superconductor has confirmed that has been following the development of superconductors based on boron for some years. The discovery of superconductivity in a material as simple as magnesium diboride demonstrates that there may be many more superconductors yet to be discovered. American Superconductor expects a commercial demonstration of a high temperature superconducting power cable in a live utility gird to take place in Detroit later this year.

If the new material proves amenable to development, it is likely to take at least five to ten years for applications to reach the market place. The first applications of high temperature superconductors, discovered in 1986, are only now reaching a stage where they can be commercialised.