Powering wind energy with superconductivity

Sep 21, 2011 By Eleanor Taylor
Argonne National Laboratory, working with Advanced Magnet Lab in Florida, has received an award to develop superconducting drive generators for windmills.

Energy prices and environmental concerns are driving the United States to rethink its energy mix and to develop domestic sources of clean, renewable energy.

Our nation possesses abundant resources to create electricity from the wind, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working toward generating 20 percent of the nation's from wind power by 2030. To help make this vision a reality, DOE recently awarded six projects to help develop next generation wind turbines and accelerate the deployment of advanced turbines for offshore wind energy in the United States.

Advanced Magnet Lab, located in Palm Bay, Florida, is leading one of these projects to develop the first fully superconducting direct-drive generator for large wind turbines with the goal of significantly reducing the cost of wind energy. DOE's Argonne National Laboratory is one of Advanced Magnet Lab's partners in this project.

"Direct-drive generators eliminate the need for a gearbox, which reduces weight, eliminates moving parts and reduces maintenance costs," said Jerry Nolen, an Argonne Distinguished Fellow and collaborator on the project. "Turbines based on superconducting technology will have a huge impact on how future electricity is generated by reducing costs and increasing reliability and efficiency."

Wind turbines work like a fan, but in reverse. Instead of using electricity to spin blades to create wind, they use wind to spin the blades to create electricity. Drive trains convert the blades' energy into electricity.

This early research and development project will focus on using , which have essentially zero , allowing for greater electricity flow and making generators smaller and lighter for their given output. Since superconductors operate at , cooling is important to the system's architecture.

The project will also feature a direct-drive generator to eliminate the massive gearbox, typically the component with the highest maintenance costs in conventional . Since gearbox size increases rapidly with turbine power rating, it also limits the size of windmills.

"Argonne is an excellent partner and has extensive expertise and experience in superconductivity, the design of cryogenic systems and modeling tools for large-scale simulations, which will be key in helping us optimize our design," said Vernon Prince at Advanced Magnet Lab. "The economic viability of large turbines requires a significant reduction of the size and weight of the drive train, which can be achieved through the use of superconductors and a very robust structure."

Advances in drive-train technologies and configurations will help the United States remain a global leader in and reduce its future cost. Success could also lead to new planning, construction and manufacturing jobs in the renewable energy market.

Explore further: Going nuts? Turkey looks to pistachios to heat new eco-city

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Smart wind turbines can predict the wind

Jan 05, 2010

Risø DTU researchers have recently completed the world’s first successful test on a wind turbine with a laser-based anemometer built into the spinner in order to increase electricity generation.

Recycling wind turbines

Sep 21, 2007

The development of wind power promises much in terms of providing us with renewable energy for the future and wind turbines could be the most effective way to harness that power. Danish researchers now suggest that in order ...

Contemplating excess wind

Jun 16, 2009

How much usable energy do wind turbines produce? It is a question that perplexes engineers and frustrates potential users, especially on windless days. A study published this month in the International Journal of Energy provid ...

Computer model optimizes wind farm

Jul 25, 2011

A new software from Siemens will improve wind farms’ energy yields and extend their service life. When the wind causes the huge rotors to turn, it generates turbulence, which interferes with the operation ...

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

Apr 17, 2014

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

Apr 17, 2014

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

StarGazer2011
1.3 / 5 (3) Sep 22, 2011
1) wind turbines or wires incorporating superconductors are always going to be expensive to build and maintain as a result of the cryogenics involved, so this is a non starter since they will be down for maintenance all the time and not generating power. Maybe the owners of this company are Obama fundraisers, seems the best explaination for why this idea is being funded
2) you only have to look at China's river system pollution and the scarcity of neodynium to make the magnets to realise wind power is neither renewable or clean.
3) Its possible that direct drive gears might be more efficient, but the superconducting bit is just impractical
CapitalismPrevails
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
StarGazer, maybe they know something about their superconductors that we don't?

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...