Prof. Xavier Obradors

Xavier Obradors is a research professor and Director of the Institut de Ciència de Materials de Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC). He earned his degree in physics (1978) and his PhD in physics (1982) at the Universitat de Barcelona, and materials science (1983) at the Université Scientifique et Médicale de Grenoble (France).

His research is focused on materials preparation with controlled micro/nanostructures and the comprehension of the physical mechanism underlying the superconducting, magnetic, and electronic properties of nanostructured materials, particularly complex oxides. He has published more than 750 articles, which have received over 16700 citations (h-index of 59) (Google scholar). The main recent accomplishments have been in the field of high current superconductors, particularly in materials development based on high throughput low cost chemical solution deposition (CSD) methods. He has received several awards: Member of the Royal Academy of Science and Arts of Barcelona (1998); Medal to the scientific achievements Narcís de Monturiol (1999); Fellow of the Institute of Physics (1999); National Prize Blas Cabrera of Physical Sciences, Materials and Earth studies (2003); Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques (2005); ENDESA-NOVARE Prize to Energy Efficiency (2007); Leibniz Medal of the Institut of Solid State and Materials Research, Desdren (2016); City of Barcelona Prize to Experimental Science and Technology, Barcelona (2016).

He has coordinated many national and international projects, among them the Severo Ochoa Excellence Award of ICMAB “Smart Functional Materials for social grand challenges” (FUNMAT).


Clean energy transition: what can we expect from superconductivity?

Anthropogenic global warming is the most serious concern that humanity faces nowadays. It is affecting all aspects of society spanning energy, healthcare, agriculture and economy, so research and development to create novel technologies to accelerate the clean energy transition is one of the highest goals at present.

Nanoscience and nanotechnology have established new paradigms to generate knowledge and materials with the capacity to radically transform many technological sectors, particularly those involved in the clean transition. Therefore, taking into account that technologies are always limited by the materials available, high performance nanomaterials are destined to become the keystone for clean energy.

In this context, what can we expect from superconductivity?

Superconductivity is a key technology of the 21st century, boosted by the discovery of high temperature superconductors (HTS), that will lead to drastic changes in the way electricity is generated, transported, distributed and used, as well as in transportation (airplanes, ships).

On the one hand, current electrical systems will be more efficient (cables, motors, transformers, generators, etc.), thus contributing to energy savings. On the other hand, new systems and technologies will appear, which we do not currently have, allowing us to use more intelligently the electrical energy. These new technologies include fusion reactors, energy storage systems and fault current limiters that will ensure the safe and reliable electricity grids adapted to renewable energies. Additionally, HTS will also boost applications in other sectors, such as biomedicine, high energy physics or transportation.

But HTS are nanomaterials that need to be thoroughly developed for this new scenario to become a reality. The manufacture of efficient HTS wires requires the development of new methodologies in which the materials have a very particular internal nanostructure. In short, it is a matter of finding cost-effective materials manufacturing methodologies, for kilometer lengths, keeping control of their internal structure at the nanometer scale, and using at best the physical properties of HTS.

In this talk I will present the present worldwide scenario of superconductivity research where the colossal challenge of reaching a clean energy transition is being explored.

  • Need of clean energy transition: sustainability. Distribution of energy use. CO2 generation (per capita)
  • Roadmaps towards GHG neutrality (2050). Paris agreement.
  • Other industries: textile, agriculture, woods, efficiency.
  • Population evolution, emigration
  • The new paradigms: electricity and renewable fuels. It is a materials party!
  • Challenges: land and sea use; critical raw materials; recycling
  • Electricity: generation, transport and distribution, storage, final use
  • Transportation: aviation, maritime, trains (MAGLEV)
  • Synergy between solar fuels (chemistry) and electricity
  • Why superconductivity?. Low losses, efficiency, high magnetic fields, high currents
  • HTS materials: challenges
  • Generation: 1/ Wind generators (HTS); 2/ Fusion (LTS and HTS)
  • Transmission and distribution: 1 / cables; 2/ Fault current limiters
  • Storage: SMES
  • Transportation:
    • Aviation:: motors, cables
    • Maritime: motors, generators, FCL, cables
    • MAGLEV
  • Other outputs: High Energy Physics, Biomedecine (NMR, MRI, proton therapy), Environment (magnetic separation)
  • Challenges in HTS materials: cost/performance under different working situations (low, medium, high magnetic fields)
  • Conclusions