Next Gen Wind Turbine Tech Gets DOE Funding

Technology is not just improving the speed and quality of your computers, but of renewable energy as well and wind power is no exception. While overall shape and even size of the turbines will most likely remain consistent, the changes are in the efficiency of the machines. To this end, the U.S. Department of Energy is investing $7.5 million over the next two years for the development of new drivetrains for wind turbines.

The money will go to six projects in four states – California, Colorado, Florida and New York – to create a new generation of drivetrains. The drivetrains are essentially what allows the turbines to create electricity and include the gearbox and generator. Improving the drivetrains “will allow U.S. manufacturers to build larger, more cost-effective, and more efficient wind turbine…the projects announced today will help the United States to lead the global wind energy industry in this critical technology area, diversify our domestic energy portfolio, and create new jobs for American workers,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Image via Notre Dame University

Some of the early stages of the drivetrain research will focus on reducing the cost of wind energy by increasing reliability of components and redesigning the drivetrain to eliminate some components altogether which would lead to decreased weight, less moving parts and less overall maintenance. Other projects will concentrate on increasing the energy output of the drivetrains and reducing the use of rare earth materials. All of the projects will receive $700,000 for Phase I of the project and only a handful will receive additional $2 million six months for Phase II of the project. The six projects that received funding are as follows:

  • Advanced Magnet Lab (Palm Bay, FL) will create a superconducting direct-drive generator that will address the challenges of large torque electrical machines.
  • Boulder Wind Power (Boulder, CO) will test a permanent magnet-based direct-drive generator to increase the reliability of large-scale utility-scale turbines and operate at higher efficiency than other permanent magnet generators.
  • Clipper Windpower (Carpinteria, CA) will design a unique drivetrain that enables increased serviceability over traditional drivetrains.
  • Dhelsen Associates (Santa Barbara, CA) will propose a drivetrain that will eliminate the need for gearboxes, power electronics, transformers and rare earth metals.
  • GE Global Research (Niskayuna, NY) will employ a unique stationary superconducting component design that reduces the risk of liquid leakage.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, CO) will optimize a test a hybrid design that combines advantages of geared and direct-drives through an improved single-stage gearbox and a non-permanent magnet generator.

More effective drivetrains would lead to lowered costs for wind power and better efficiency, eventually allowing the U.S. to become a leader in global wind energy.

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