UH Superconductivity Center Receives $3.5M ETF Grant

The University of Houston has received a Research Superiority Award from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF), announced today by Gov. Rick Perry on behalf of the ETF board. The University of Houston's Texas Center for Superconductivity (TcSUH) will receive $3.5 million over a five-year period to help establish TcSUH's Applied Research Hub (TcSUH-ARH) and recruit stellar scientists and researchers in superconductivity and related materials.

"The Texas Emerging Technology Fund has helped create an unparalleled research environment in our state by encouraging innovation and providing a path for bringing emerging technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace," Perry said. "The University of Houston is a worldwide leader in superconductivity technology, and this grant will help expand its research capabilities while encouraging the commercialization of this promising technology."

Established by Perry and the Texas Legislature in 2005, the ETF is bringing the best scientists and researchers to Texas, attracting high-paying jobs and helping start-up companies get off the ground faster.

Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston and chancellor of the University of Houston System, praised the ETF board and state leadership for their vote of confidence. "The TcSUH Applied Research Hub expands the worldwide recognition of the leadership role TcSUH plays in the science, discovery and applications of high temperature superconductors (HTS)," she said. "It provides new infrastructure and capabilities for applied research to attract companies to engage in collaborative research and development, targeting HTS-based products and processes for energy and medicine.

"Excellence in research and excellence among faculty are key elements of a Tier-One institution," she said. "This award confirms our achievements in both areas and is another clear indication that the University of Houston is on the road to becoming a Tier-One university."

Don Birx, UH vice president for research, said "the TcSUH-ARH leverages existing assets and creates key collaborations, moving Texas forward in leading the world for applications of HTS materials in energy and medicine."

Jeff Moseley, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, agrees.

"The Houston region applauds Gov. Perry's awarding of an Emerging Technology Fund grant to the University of Houston," Moseley said.  "The TcSUH Applied Research Hub will play a vital role in technology transfer, job creation and work force training for Houston.  The grant recognition is further evidence of the region's importance in technology and innovation."

Since the initial discovery of the Yttrium-Barium-Copper-Oxides (YBCO) family of superconductors at the University of Houston by Professor Paul C. W. Chu and colleagues in 1987, worldwide research has demonstrated the technical viability of products based on these materials for many important applications in energy, medical equipment, industrial processing, communications and transportation. The status of the technology has reached the point where significant commercial applications are possible. 

Allan Jacobson, TcSUH's director and Robert A. Welch Chair of Science in the department of chemistry, explained that the TcSUH Applied Research Hub is using the research and technology developed by TcSUH in high temperature superconductors and other advanced materials for commercial applications through research collaborations and licensing agreements with industry, or where appropriate, by the formation of spin-off companies.

"The Applied Research Hub is facilitating the applications development process, leading to a commercial cluster of HTS industries in Texas, and actively seeks the participation of other industry partners with interests in HTS and advanced materials," Jacobson said.

"TcSUH chose to pursue this strategic direction in part because of the city of Houston's and the state of Texas' emphasis on alternative energy and their support for the UH superconductivity program, the University of Houston's major focus on energy and biomedical initiatives, and UH's acquisition of 70-plus acres with facilities adjacent to the campus where a new Energy Research Park is being established," he said. "Test bed space and offices are available for university and industry/private venture partners."

The HTS application commanding the greatest interest is the manufacture of superconducting wire for use in cable and other related products that are expected to play a major role in improving the electric power grid, of vital importance for the transmission and distribution of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. 

The first ‘spoke on the Hub', therefore, will focus on the improvement and commercialization of superconducting wire for applications in energy, through a partnership with SuperPower Inc. SuperPower Inc. is a world leader in ‘second-generation' high temperature superconducting wire and related devices designed to enhance the capacity, reliability and quality of electric power transmission and distribution in the national grid. The University of Houston and SuperPower have carried out collaborative research on HTS wire for several years, but this will be extended and enhanced in the Applied Research Hub with the ETF funding. 

According to Arthur P. Kazanjian, general manager at SuperPower, "The establishment of research superiority status at the University of Houston for high temperature superconductivity (HTS) provides leverage for investments made in HTS by the U.S. Department of Energy and contributes toward its advancement. Incorporating this HTS wire and power equipment into the nation's electric grid will help meet the rapidly growing demand for energy in an energy-efficient and cost-effective manner."

Venkat Selvamanickam, a world-renowned expert in superconductivity, joined the University of Houston in fall 2009 as M.D. Anderson Chair Professor in the department of mechanical engineering and as a principal investigator of TcSUH. Professor Matt Franchek, former chair of the Cullen College of Engineering's department of mechanical engineering, said "Dr. Selvamanickam, as director for the Applied Research Hub for Energy, is establishing a top-notch team of scientists and researchers in the research collaboration on superconducting wire between TcSUH, mechanical engineering and SuperPower. The ETF award will enable the recruitment of other outstanding researchers, who will work under the direction of Dr. Selvamanickam, to complete the superconducting wire, device and systems development team and provide graduate students with invaluable laboratory and industrial intern experiences."

This research will play a critical role in removing remaining roadblocks to the large-scale introduction of superconductivity technology into the electricity grid. Selvamanickam was previously vice president and chief technical officer at SuperPower, where he headed the company's technology development group.

"We are creating cross disciplinary teams within the Applied Research Hub to develop industry-scalable solutions to fundamental challenges in the areas of energy generation, transmission and use, and enable rapid transition of these advancements to manufacturing and commercial deployment."

The ARH also will provide workforce training for the next generation of technical professionals in the superconductor industry to address industry concerns regarding an inadequate pipeline of replacement professionals. "This award provides significant momentum for the UH Energy initiative and our Tier-One efforts," said Joseph W. Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell chair and dean of the Cullen College of Engineering. "Beyond the benefits to TcSUH's Applied Research Hub, the ETF will allow engineering students the opportunity to interact with industries such as SuperPower at the Energy Research Park."

Jacobson said the Applied Research Hub will additionally work with industry to develop applications of high temperature superconductors in biomedicine. TcSUH has an established, award-winning research program in medical imaging and nanomedicine and has built a network of collaborators at the Texas Medical Center. Examples include the Baylor College of Medicine, The Methodist Hospital, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the UT Health Science Center. "We are carrying out research in areas such as magnetic resonance imaging at high and ultra low fields, magnetic nanoparticle imaging and fetal cardiac monitoring. We have established one spin-off company in collaboration with University College, London - EndoMagnetics - from this research, and anticipate others," Jacobson said. Since several medical applications of HTS depend critically on specially designed HTS wire, this second ‘spoke in the Hub' will be leveraged by the HTS wire program.