Illinois professor, colleagues outline futuristic power SuperGrid

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By Brad Petersen, ECE ILLINOIS
January 1, 2006

  • Thomas J. Overbye, Fox Family Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is one of three authors of a July Scientific American article advocating the construction of a hydrogen-filled SuperGrid.
  • "It's a long-term issue that could take a generation to evolve," Overbye said. "It's going to be a big investment to implement a test grid, perhaps $1 trillion. But we already spend $900 billion a year on energy. So $1 trillion over 20 years for cleaner energy in plentiful supply isn't that bad."

Thomas J. Overbye
Thomas J. Overbye

URBANA, Ill.—Thomas J. Overbye, Fox Family Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is one of three authors of a July Scientific American article advocating the construction of a hydrogen-filled SuperGrid. 

The SuperGrid infrastructure would provide efficient delivery of nuclear and renewable energy from plants in distant and remote locations.  Utilizing SuperCables, the proposed infrastructure would transmit extraordinarily high electrical current nearly resistance-free through superconducting wires chilled by hydrogen.  The cables would also carry hydrogen to vehicle fueling stations, among other places. 

"The biggest overhead high-voltage line might move 1,000 megawatts," Overbye said. "What we're talking about is five or ten times that amount."

Overbye, along with co-authors Paul M. Grant, a retired fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and Chauncey Starr, founder and former president of the EPRI, published the article after participating in two workshops, both sponsored by the University of Illinois, which looked at how to revise the energy economy away from one dependent on fossil fuels to a sustainable energy structure.

The article also suggests that while no scientific breakthroughs are required to achieve the reality of the SuperGrid, major technological innovations will be necessary to safely transport large amounts of hydrogen at a minimum cost.

"It's a long-term issue that could take a generation to evolve," Overbye said. "It's going to be a big investment to implement a test grid, perhaps $1 trillion. But we already spend $900 billion a year on energy. So $1 trillion over 20 years for cleaner energy in plentiful supply isn't that bad."

Read the Scientific American article.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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