Investing

Morning Blast: Superconduction, American Superconductor and LK-99

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On Tuesday, we discussed how electric vehicles are more efficient than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Of the gasoline you put in your crossover SUV, 80% is wasted, mostly in the form of excess heat. Energy loss in an EV is about 20%.

Anytime electricity flows through a wire or other material, heat is generated and, in most cases, wasted due to the resistance of the medium through which the electricity is flowing. The Holy Grail of electricity generation and distribution is to eliminate as much as possible of the energy loss at a non-prohibitive price.

Superconducting materials transmit electricity with no resistance and, thus, no loss of energy. That is the good news. The less-good news is that in order to work, superconductors must be chilled to temperatures approaching absolute zero, or about −460° F. There are many materials that can do that, but it costs a lot of energy to make something that cold, so superconductors are super-expensive.

Last week, three South Korean scientists published a paper claiming to have created a new material called LK-99 that they claim is a superconductor at room temperature. Not only does LK-99 not need to be chilled to extremely low temperatures, it is made from a combination of lead and copper. In other words, LK-99 is cheap and almost perfectly efficient. What’s not to like?

Because this is real science, the Korean results need to be verified (replicated) by other scientists. Over the weekend, a team of Chinese scientists was able to replicate the results of the Korean work. They reported their results on Tuesday, and the rest is about to become history. Or at least more noise.

It just so happens that a Massachusetts company, American Superconductor Corp. (NASDAQ: AMSC), first incorporated in 1987 and first listed on the Nasdaq in 1991, already makes and sells wire and other components that reduce the loss of energy in the generation and transmission of electricity. The company sells solutions and products in the wind and solar energy and defense markets. AMSC’s best-known product is its superconducting wire, and the company just announced a $34 million contract with the U.S. Navy for power control systems.

Here is the company’s stock price history since its initial public offering in December 1991. Not very impressive. The shares shot up by about 60% on Tuesday, probably thanks to the company’s name more than to the $34 million contract it announced on Monday.

On July 25, shares closed a $7.03. On Tuesday, the stock closed at $16.13 after posting a new 52-week high of $17.37. At Tuesday’s closing price, the company’s market cap is $488.24 million.

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