Superconductors could potentially phase out bulk magnets in machinery ranging from MRIs and CT scanners to electric motors. The catch? Conventional high-temperature superconductors are made up of expensive rare earth metals and have a long and complicated fabrication process. This has caused attention to shift to superconductors manufactured from magnesium diboride (or MgB2), which is lightweight, cheap, and easier to fabricate and mold into intricate shapes.
Previous research has shown that using nanoscale boron to make MgB2 results in better magnetic characteristics. However, commercial nanoscale boron is expensive. Ball milling, a popular method for refining boron introduces impurities which hinder the superconductor’s performance. Thus, there is a need for a low-cost method for the nanoscale refining of boron. Now, in a paper published in Ceramics International (version available online on 14 June 2022), a team of researchers from Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT), led by Professor Muralidhar Miryala, solved this problem by outlining an all-new, low-cost, and efficient method for refining boron.
The team used a technique called ultrasonication, a technique that employs ultrasound waves to agitate particles in a sample. First, they placed commercially available crystalline boron in distilled water. This was then subjected to ultrasonic sound waves of 20 kHz. The researchers subjected the crystalline boron to the ultrasonic treatment for varying periods of time to see which time period would be ideal. The resulting superconductor samples were checked for impurities, microstructure, and magnetic properties.
“We found that our samples of MgB2 were around 95% pure, which is much higher than the ball milling method that only produced 75% purity. The samples had a refined microstructure and had a 35% improvement than other methods. All of this was achieved with only 30 minutes of ultrasonic treatment”, says Prof. Miryala. This makes this new method of ultrasonication using distilled water extremely efficient at refining boron without having to use expensive materials. It brings down the cost of making MgB2 superconductors while also improving their magnetic characteristics.
According to Prof. Miryala, “Although ultrasonication as a method has been explored before for refining, previous attempts have used ethanol or hexane. This increases the cost of the process. The use of distilled water brings down the cost while still being as good or even better than the previous mediums.”
Overall, this study represents a huge step forward in making superconductors easily available for commercial purposes in devices. In addition, the study also brings into focus the ultrasonication technique, which is currently in its early stages of development. “This new technique will create more avenues of research. Other researchers can work on the optimization of this method to bring out its complete potential as well as apply this technique in their respective fields,” comments Prof. Miryala.
The researchers are confident that their findings will make cheap superconductors a reality soon enough!
About Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT), Japan
Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT) is a private university with campuses in Tokyo and Saitama. Since the establishment of its predecessor, Tokyo Higher School of Industry and Commerce, in 1927, it has maintained “learning through practice” as its philosophy in the education of engineers. SIT was the only private science and engineering university selected for the Top Global University Project sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and will receive support from the ministry for 10 years starting from the 2014 academic year. Its motto, “Nurturing engineers who learn from society and contribute to society,” reflects its mission of fostering scientists and engineers who can contribute to the sustainable growth of the world by exposing their over 8,000 students to culturally diverse environments, where they learn to cope, collaborate, and relate with fellow students from around the world.
About Professor Muralidhar Miryala from SIT, Japan
Dr. Muralidhar Miryala is a Professor at the College of Engineering/Graduate School of Science and Engineering and Board of Councilor at Shibaura Institute of Technology. His main area of research is Solid State Physics and Materials Science, with a special focus on materials for energy and environment, especially high-temperature superconductors. He has over 500 publications to his credit so far. He has received several awards for his research contributions, including the prestigious 2021 Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award from the President of India and the SIT Excellent Education Award (2021) by Chairman of Board of Directors.
This study was partly supported by Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT) International Research Center for Green Electronics and Grant-in-Aid FD research budget code: 721MA56383.
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Novel ultra-sonic boron refinement in distilled water for cost-efficient fabrication of MgB2 bulk ceramic superconductors
Article Publication Date
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.