New superconductor has zero resistance at room temperature. With one catch….

New Scientist reports on a new material that conducts electricity with no resistance whatsoever at room temperature – something electronics and electrical engineers have been searching for for a long time, since a huge amount of the energy we create winds up getting wasted as heat. This new material doesn’t heat up. The only catch is, the stuff needs to be under almost the amount of pressure at the center of the Earth to work:

“If you had a room-temperature superconductor that you could deploy at atmospheric pressure, you could imagine a whole host of large-scale applications,” says M. Brian Maple at the University of California, San Diego. “I’m just afraid that the materials science could be so difficult that you might not be able to get a superconductor that could perform well enough for those applications.”

Now, Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester, New York, and his colleagues have solved half of this problem. The team made a superconductor by crushing carbon, sulphur and hydrogen between two diamonds at a pressure about 70 per cent of that found at the centre of Earth and at a temperature of around 15°C. That is the highest temperature at which superconductivity has ever been measured, and the first that can reasonably be called room temperature.

Solid metallic hydrogen on its own is expected to be superconductive, but it is incredibly difficult to make because it requires extraordinary pressure. The researchers found that adding carbon and sulphur to the hydrogen makes it behave as if it is at a higher pressure than it really is.

“Say you are in a room and you have four walls, one way you can compress yourself is to bring the walls closer and closer, but you can also keep the same size of room and add 10 people into the room, you’ll still feel squeezed,” says Dias. In this experiment, adding carbon and sulphur to the hydrogen is like adding more people to the room: it acts to chemically pre-compress the hydrogen.

You can read the new superconductor research here, in Nature.