Powering wind energy with superconductivity

September 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.

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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
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
StarGazer, maybe they know something about their superconductors that we don't?

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