UH Hires Director for Superconductor Manufacturing Institute

Syed Ahmed Will Work With Industry to Launch Full Commercialization

Syed Ahmed, a power systems engineer and manager with more than three decades of experience in manufacturing and the power industry, has been named executive director of the Advanced Superconductor Manufacturing Institute.

The University of Houston announced plans for the institute in May, when it received a $500,000 planning grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Since then, Venkat Selvamanickam, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UH, has led efforts to build an industry-based consortium to speed full commercialization of high-temperature superconductors.

Energetics Inc. is supporting UH in the planning phase, which is addressing the technical barriers slowing the transition from today’s small-scale manufacturing to low-cost, high-volume production. Integrating the technology into existing infrastructure is another hurdle.

Selvamanickam, who also is director of the Applied Research Hub at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, said Ahmed has been a strong proponent of high temperature superconductivity for the utility industry for 20 years.

“Since ASMI is an industry-driven effort, I look forward to Syed bringing his industry expertise to build a strong consortium,” he said.

Superconductor devices are used in energy, health care and transportation, among other uses, offering increased efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional technology. But they haven’t yet made the leap to full deployment.

Citing LED light bulbs as an example, Ahmed said new technologies commonly take 25 years to become established, and superconductors are likely to follow a similar path as costs drop and efficiency increases. Selvamanickam oversees the manufacture of high-performance superconducting wire at the Applied Research Hub, focused on lowering cost and improving efficiency.

Other researchers and companies are involved in similar work, and Ahmed said he expects to work with everyone. “It is the technology that is important,” he said.

Before coming to UH, Ahmed spent more than 20 years with Southern California Edison Company, working on projects including the U.S. Department of Energy’s High Temperature Superconductivity Initiative. With both a MBA and a Ph.D. in power systems engineering, he has been involved with the business and technical side of the effort, from designing generating stations and substations and leading research and development efforts in power systems to the development and testing of the first high temperature superconducting fault current limiter.

He has taught at the University of California-Irvine and at the University of Southern California.

Chief among his duties here will be to pull together a coalition of industry members. ASMI won’t manufacture superconducting devices, but instead will connect industry with needed research and development efforts. About 30 companies already are involved.

“With all my industry contacts, I know what they want, because I was one of them,” Ahmed said. “We can help them deploy the technology. We are at the point where high-temperature superconductors need a breakthrough.”