The first break through in the field of high-temperature superconductivity was made in the year 1986, when a Swiss physicist Alexander Muller and his West German associate Georg Bednorz discovered the effect of superconductivity in the ceramic materials at the temperature which was considerably higher than those for any earlier found superconducting metals and metal alloys. This discovery stimulated intensive research and in a few years, a pleiad of new materials with even higher superconducting temperatures were synthesized. Although the temperature of superconducting state was low in the normal sense (almost -200°C) for several materials it broke the technologically important benchmark of -196°C – the boiling temperature of the liquid nitrogen. G. Bednortz and A. Muller were awarded the Noble Prize in Physics in 1987 for their amazing discovery, and many scientists were motivated to search for the new materials, which can be superconducting at room temperature. Although in the end of 80th there was a lot of optimism about the use of new available superconducting materials in the mass products for more efficient electric energy generation, transportation and utilization, it took quite long time before the first prototypes of the new applications were demonstrated. Driven by the concept, Sergey Lee along with his classmates and colleagues came up with the idea to organize a start-up company for manufacturing high temperature superconductor (HTS) wires. That is how Faraday Factory Japan was born. We interacted with Sergey Lee, CEO and Valery Petrykin, CTO of Faraday Factory Japan to know about their business story, vision and how the company is pushing boundaries to pioneer the future of superconductivity.
CEO Views: You are widely regarded as an inspirational leader. What sparked your interest in this space?
Valery Petrykin: The idea for this business was at the surface several decades ago. At that time, I was a high school student dreaming about the career in science, and this general atmosphere around high-temperature superconductivity phenomenon determined my career to the large extend. When I entered the university, I choose to study in the newly organized academic program specialized on solid state chemistry and high-temperature superconducting materials.
The enthusiasm of the first years among researchers and engineers (and funding agencies) gradually went down when it turned out that materials technology is too complicated and manufacturing is too costly for the quick practical applications. I think that the turning point for gradual moving of this technology from the research laboratories to the start-up companies was connected with the introduction of the robust excimer lasers with the excellent cost/performance around 2010 by Coherent.
Around that time Sergey Lee and several of my university classmates and colleagues came up with the idea to organize the start-up company for manufacturing of the 2G-HTS wires. This idea was enthusiastically supported by the private investor Andrey Vavilov. The first name of our company was SuperOx Japan. In 2022 SuperOx Japan undergone the ownership and structure change. Now it belongs to the Faraday 1867 Holdings LLC (US based company) and changed its name to become Faraday Factory Japan LLC.
Thinking back about that time and knowing the path we had to take, it was quite a risky idea to change a university faculty carer to the business endeavour where the existing market was in the embryonic state and there was a lot of new things to develop related to technology and business operation. But it turned to be exciting 12 years of hard work and many achievements. I have never had a regret about that decision to change my career.
CEO Views: Faraday Factory Japan has demonstrated a record of remarkable achievements in the field of superconductivity. What have been the most significant accomplishments and milestones so far?
Valery Petrykin: It has been a long journey filled with growth and accomplishments. We developed from the scratch the technology for reproducible and inexpensive fabrication of the HTS wires. We refined the operation of the team for daily production and successfully supplied large amount of superconducting tapes for the superconducting fault current limiter. We developed the new product for the high magnetic field applications and provided such new wires for a fusion startup for use in the high field magnet. To meet high demands and make HTS tapes available just in time, we started operating 24/7 keeping intact high quality and good yield. We adapted the operation protocols for the inexperienced people, whom we can massively hire in the available job market.
Faraday Factory Japan uses magnetron and ion-beam sputtering, pulsed laser deposition method & a range of the electrochemistry processes.
The manufacturing technology developed at Faraday Factory Japan uses magnetron and ion-beam sputtering, pulsed laser deposition method and a range of the electrochemistry processes. Our equipment and the manufacturing process is extremely complicated. I think one of the most significant milestones of FFJ was that we could refine the process and build the daily operation protocols in such a way that currently we can hire people without special training and let them work independently after a 2 months training period. Our next milestone would be scaling up the production to reach the capacity of 2,500 km/year 2G-HTS wires and make it a standard production unit for the future expansion.
CEO Views: The company has been constantly treading innovation. How are your products contributing to a zero-carbon economy and adding value to your target clientele?
Valery Petrykin: There is no doubt that our superconducting wires will become one of the key ingredients in the future zero-carbon economy. Although our product requires quite a lot of electric energy for the production, and if one starts to calculate the CO2 footprint just for the 2G-HTS wires themselves, the number will be close to 3.5 kg CO2 per 1m of the wire, our superconducting wires are one of the unique elements for the high-field magnets of compact fusion reactors. Such fusion reactor can provide almost infinite source of the cheap and clean energy with zero carbon dioxide emission. Wide spreading of such energy sources is expected after 2030 and it will cause a real revolution in energy generation without generating the CO2.
Another important application of our wires is in the electric power cables for energy transmission. For the current technology, electric power losses during electric energy transmission in US are estimated to be 5% according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The average numbers for the whole world are higher ranging from 8 to 15%. Gradual replacement of usual electric power lines with superconducting cables can potentially cut the largest fraction of these energy losses and contribute to zero-carbon economy.
Currently electric power companies do not have the economic incentives due to the high cost of superconducting wires. We are constantly working on the cost reduction. For example, during the past 5 years the production cost in our company decreased more than 3 times and now we start making plans for the time when our wires will be competing with copper wires for energy transmission. Meanwhile, already now we observe increasing interest of several startups and large power companies in the development of actual products to replace conventional cables on the substantial scale. I would like to say it once again that our product is the key element for the future zero-carbon economy.
CEO Views: That’s really commendable! How do you stay ahead of industry trends and anticipate changes in the market?
Valery Petrykin: The executive board of FFJ consists of the researchers, who virtually grown up together with the subject of high-temperature superconductivity, and successful business and financial experts, who have lead many successful business projects prior to the FFJ. Such a team can effectively manage “high risk/high return” decisions because the risk is mitigated by the expertise, and we can be first to jump after the opportunities, which the others hesitate to exercise.
CEO Views: What are some of the key challenges and opportunities that you are observing in the industry, and how you are approaching them?
Valery Petrykin: Unestablished market for the high-temperature superconductors. Large number of sales still connected with the R& D and pilot scale projects supported by the government money. We focus on making it our opportunity by providing highly customized product for each customer, which large companies generally cannot afford to do. This approach cuts over potential profits, but we gain the tremendous experience on addressing the actual customers’ needs, we build out network and also educate the potential customers.
The second serious challenge relates to the absence of the specialized education for our industry. For example, we can hire a driver, an accountant, an electrical engineer, but there is no a PLD engineer or ion-beam sputtering operator. In this case we have to develop our orientation and training program. Perhaps, in the future this situation will change if some of our younger researchers and scientists will return to the universities and teach students in those new programs for the future industry.
Once we start to talk about the job market, we observe a new trend among younger people who do not want to be bound to a single company, and they prefer to deliver the results in different fields being more like “project oriented”. Also, there are many retired people in the job market who have a lot of experience and who are still active and eager to work. There are many women with excellent education who would like to take care of their small kids and who would like to work part time. We try to be flexible and work with all those categories of employees providing them with the convenient job schedule and adapting the working load to their current capacity.
CEO Views: What sets your company apart from others in your industry? How do you maintain your competitive advantage?
Valery Petrykin: In the beginning our company has focused on the development of the new product and processes towards 2G-HTS wires as well as design of the equipment for such technologies. Most of the people who joined our company during that time had excellent training in physics, materials science and engineering. Several years of active and focused R& D work allowed our team to accumulate the unique experience and maintain the scientific network which set us apart in the industry. I can say that the culture of innovations is deeply in the core of our company.
The second key element is the starving for innovations from the side of the FFJ Directors Board. And here the roles of CTO and R& D Director become very critical to keep the balance between the rigid protocols for stable and reproducible day to day operation and this hunger for innovations and constant development, which tends to disturb the established system.
We are lucky to work and live in Japan, the country which could nourish the unique spirit of synergy between tradition and innovation. This spirit is shared and respected by all the employees which created a kind of harmony about stable production and constant innovations.
CEO Views: What is your company culture like?
Valery Petrykin: Our employees are the backbone of our company. We have a very balanced international team of over 50 people from 12 countries with almost equal number of male and female employees. They are our competitive advantage. Therefore, we encourage their further education, their life/work balance and teach them to take responsibility and grow. We look for diversity and aim at building a fair and inclusive company where we overcome obstacles with excellence and focus. Our quick decision-making is strongly associated with our company performance. We constantly look for innovations and production system improvement.
CEO Views: What do you see as the future of the industry? How do you plan to position your company to thrive in that future?
Valery Petrykin: I believe in the nearest five to ten years we will see a blossoming of the companies producing the high temperature super-conducting wires of the first and the second generation. There will be at least four alternative approaches for the 2G-HTS wires fabrication and they will have competitive advantages in different applications. Due to the fundamental nature of our manufacturing process based on the pulsed laser deposition, FFJ will mainly position itself for the applications using high magnetic field. In other words, our wires will be used in the fusion reactors, wind power generators, electric motors, MRI magnets, maglev trains, induction heaters. We are intensively working on our wires to be very appealing for the cable’s