Discover more from Citrini Research
Please see the updated list at the bottom, revised after feedback from people knowledgeable in the field. I’ve also added fields specific for shorter term trades (short interest & volume as a % of free float because let’s face it - besides a few names this is as highly speculative as positioning gets lol). This was a fun half-joke half-hope exercise, hope you enjoy it as well!
Last week, on arXiv, preprints emerged making the incredible claim of superconductivity above room temperature in the material dubbed LK-99. This lead apatite compound purportedly becomes superconducting at ambient pressure at temperatures up to 250 K. This complex-yet-simple concoction results from combining the minerals lanarkite (Pb₂SO₅) and copper phosphide (Cu₃P), which are then baked within a 4-day, multi-step, small batch, solid-state synthesis process.
If proven valid, this shatters the record high temperature superconductivity seen previously. Any technology tapping into electricity or magnetism has the potential to be revolutionized by these wonder materials that eliminate energy waste. By converting previously squandered power into a surplus source, superconductors can both maximize cutting-edge tech and minimize environmental impact. With such twin benefits, these physics-defying compounds may soon make the realm of science fiction an efficient, ecologically sound reality.
The potential real-world applications are astounding - from lossless power transmission to magnetically levitated vehicles to cheaper MRI scanners and beyond. However, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and, as further discussions with people knowledgeable in the field reveal, this is not a “magic bullet”. It may be a very long time before this material sees it’s utility leveraged in a wide scale manner due to various concerns, even if the experiment is able to be replicated by peers.
Superconductivity was first discovered in 1911 by Kamerlingh Onnes, when he found that the resistance of mercury dropped suddenly to zero below a critical temperature of 4 Kelvin. Since then, scientists have discovered many other superconducting materials, but most require extremely cold temperatures.
Superconductors have a range of applications due to their ability to conduct electricity with virtually no resistance. Current high-temperature superconductors can operate at temperatures up to around -140°C. This requires expensive cooling systems with liquid nitrogen or helium. Room temperature superconductors operating at 0-30°C could remove this cooling requirement. Many theories have been proposed and several potential room temperature superconductors have been reported over the years, but none have been reliably reproduced. Verifying and optimizing a room temperature superconductor remains an ongoing challenge.
Achieving superconductivity at room temperature has been dubbed the "holy grail" of condensed matter physics. Chinese researchers have claimed to already replicate the results and a researcher has published a simulation analysis that states LK-99 should theoretically have the properties necessary. A material like LK-99 could, theoretically at least, revolutionize technology and enable lossless power transmission, maglev trains, cheaper medical scanners, faster electronics, and more. This is of course dependent not just on its ability to be replicated but on its ability to scale and leverage its utility.
Potential Impact of LK-99 or Similar Discoveries
Specifically, however, if it were able to do so, some impacts might be:
Power grids that transmit electricity without the loss of up to 200 million megawatt hours (MWh) of the energy that now occurs due to resistance in the wires. This could revolutionize electrical grids by eliminating the approximately 5-7% of electricity that is currently lost in transmission and distribution due to resistance. It would increase efficiency and reduce the need for coals/gas power plants.
Frictionless, levitating high-speed trains called “Maglev Trains” (magnetic levitation). An example of a maglev train line currently under construction in Japan using Nb-Ti superconductors can be found here. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chūō_Shinkansen#Miyazaki_and_Yamanashi_Test_Tracks
More affordable medical imaging and scanning techniques such as MRI and magnetocardiography. MRI machines currently use superconducting magnets cooled by liquid helium to create high magnetic fields. A room temperature superconductor magnet could potentially make MRI scans much cheaper and more accessible.
Superconducting materials are used to build quantum bits (qubits) in some of the leading quantum computer designs - their properties allow generating and maintaining the fragile quantum states essential for quantum information processing. However, this requires very extreme temperatures. Room temperature superconductors could thus enable more stable qubits while drastically reducing the complex cooling systems required, paving the way for cheaper, more scalable quantum computers.
Faster, more efficient electronics for digital logic and memory device technology.
Tokamak machines that use magnetic fields to confine plasmas to achieve fusion as a source of unlimited power.
More compact and powerful particle accelerators could be built, enabling new discoveries in physics. The Large Hadron Collider uses superconducting magnets.
Wireless charging - Long-range wireless power transfer using superconducting coils may allow robots to charge wirelessly without downtime.
Robotics - if practical to implement in the size/scale necessary, room temp superconductivity holds the potential to enhance robotic strength, speed, sensing, durability, and autonomy - opening up new use cases in manufacturing, surgery, inspection, hazardous environments, and more
If scalable and economical (important - although the materials for LK-99 make it appear as if it would be so if it’s legit), it could also impact renewable energy generation, fusion energy research, and many other fields. Overall it could lead to significant advancements in technology and discovery.
Electric motors incorporating superconducting windings could be very powerful and efficient. This could accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.
If proven valid, this would represent one of the biggest physics breakthroughs in decades with revolutionary technological potential. However, as with all purported scientific discoveries like this caution as the results need independent verification before declaring a definitive discovery.
Past claims of room temperature superconductors have not panned out, so skepticism remains high in the physics community (although maybe not in the investing community…)
While by no means a guarantee, companies and stocks related to power, electrification, renewables, motors, medical devices, semiconductors, and electronics manufacturing could see upside if the breakthrough holds. It’s worth noting that I remain highly skeptical and, if we’re being honest, my undergraduate level physics degree does not qualify me to be early in determining whether this is valid or not. However, monitoring developments in the science and tracking firms poised to capitalize makes sense for investors with higher risk tolerances. Since boy scouts, I’ve always benefitted from “being prepared”. After all, the potential payoff of being early to a revolutionary innovation outweighs the risks.
The “Superconductor Basket”
Because why not, we’ve rallied on dumber stuff before!
Just for fun, here’s a list of equities that might benefit if this maybe world-changing scientific discovery maybe stepping stone in SCON progress were for real:
Some people smarter than I am have pointed out that the benefit to Uranium names would not necessarily exist because of the fact that superconductors would disproportionately effect fusion over fission and the efficiency gains would potentially even be bearish for uranium considering it reduces the amount used per unit of energy produced (this is why I love twitter, getting feedback from anon physicists).1
What I’ve done is included just four names I think could potentially benefit just from the potential for enhanced nuclear tech & a potential proliferation of nuclear energy due to increased efficiency but that seems unlikely given the general trajectory of nuclear power in general.
Potential Problems with LK-99, even if it is replicated
Superconductors are valued for their ability to conduct electricity without resistance. However, for a superconductor to be practical, it needs to function effectively at high current densities. BSCCO (Bismuth Strontium Calcium Copper Oxide), for example, can handle thousands of amps per square millimeter. In contrast, preliminary findings suggest that LK-99 experiences breakdown at much lower, milliamp range currents.2
This vast discrepancy in performance places significant limitations on the potential applications of LK-99.
Beyond current handling capabilities, the manufacturing of superconducting wires requires materials with a uniform, defect-free crystal structure. Early insights indicate that LK-99 might be prone to forming microscopic defects, which could undermine its structural integrity and suitability for wire form.
Adding to these technical challenges are environmental and health concerns. Specifically, lead apatite, the basis of LK-99, releases toxic fumes when heated. This introduces safety considerations and regulatory complexities for any potential high-temperature applications of LK-99.
In cutting edge science, each new discovery brings with it a set of unique challenges that need to be navigated. Nonetheless, every step forward, every challenge overcome, contributes to our collective understanding and takes us closer to the next breakthrough. With this in mind, it’s a possible outcome of LK-99’s legitimacy that it leads to new and more potentially scalable and widely applicable materials.
Challenges & A Pragmatic Scenario for LK-99
Here's an elaboration on the potential challenges and outcome of LK-99 if it is indeed legitimate as a superconductor:
1) Low Power Applications: The power handling capacity of a superconductor is significantly influenced by its critical current density. If LK-99 is restricted to low power applications, it could be due to its inability to maintain superconductivity at high current densities.
2) Unsuitability for Wires: LK-99 may be prone to microscale defects that limits its utility in wire form. Techniques to create more robust superconducting wires, like tape or thin-film approaches, are under development but haven't fully addressed these challenges yet.
3) Limited Usage Due to Toxicity: Lead's toxicity is a significant health concern. Any wide-scale adoption of a lead-based superconductor would need to carefully consider and mitigate the risks associated with lead exposure during manufacturing, usage, and disposal.
4) Potential for Discovery of Superior Materials: The discovery, characterization and (potentially) successful replication of LK-99, even with its potential limitations, could contribute valuable knowledge to the field and spur the development of superior, safer, and more practical superconductors.
There are still significant implications for LK-99 even if these challenges are present, they are simply more niche and less widespread than earlier examples.
In conclusion, while it's crucial to temper expectations regarding new materials like LK-99, the overall pursuit of superconductivity remains a worthwhile venture. Continued research could lead to unexpected breakthroughs and innovation. The complexity of the field means that even apparent setbacks could serve as stepping stones to major advancements.
Edit Number 1, made 08/01/23
Edit Number 2, made 08/01/2023