Superconducting generators could make big wind turbines less expensive

Jan. 24, 2013
A European effort could result in the first superconducting generator sitting in a utility scale wind turbine.

One problem when you try to field super-big wind turbines: All the components involved get super heavy as well.

No surprise, then, that there are efforts afoot to figure out ways of lightening up the next generation of utility scale turbines able to generate 10 MW peak power. One of the latest efforts in this area is a project called Suprapower ( for SUPerconducting, Reliable, lightweight, And more POWERful offshore wind turbine). This research project aims to develop a new compact superconductor-based generator able to work in offshore wind turbines. Researchers figure they can cut the cost of offshore wind turbines by about 30% this way. They also say a superconducting drive system could reduce the cost of operating turbines and boost turbine life as well.

Coordinating the project is the Spanish company Tecnalia. Also involved is wind turbine manufacturer Acciona WP in Spain,  superconducting wire developer Columbus Superconductors in Italy,  cryogenic systems supplier Oerlikon-Leybold Vacuum in Germany, and offshore engineering company D2M Engineering in France. Superconductivity research for the project is taking place at  the Institute of Electrical Engineering Slovak Academic of Sciences, the University of Southampton in the UK,  and Karlsruher Institut Technologie in Germany. The main outcome of the project will be a SC generator able to be scaled in wind turbines up to power levels of 10 MW and beyond.

One example of a superconducting generator design comes from a research team headed by Asger B. Abrahamsen of the Technical University of Denmark. Abrahamsen described the design, which employs rotor coils made from magnesium diboride, at a wind energy conference in Denmark.

Researchers have long studied superconducting generators for industrial applications.One of the first examples is a 36.5 MW (49,000 hp) high-temperature superconductor (HTS) ship propulsion motor developed by American Superconductor Corp. Designed for the Office of Naval Research to demonstrate the efficacy of HTS motors for future Navy all-electric ships and submarines. The same basic HTS technology is the basis for a 10 MW HTS wind turbine generator called the SeaTitan.

Most HTS generator designs use liquid nitrogen to cool a rotor that includes  coils made of a superconducting ceramic such as magnesium diboride (MgB2). But the generator design is challenging from the standpoint of electromagnetics, thermal performance, and structural qualities of the components involved.

About the Author

Leland Teschler

Lee Teschler served as Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design until 2014. He holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan; a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan; and an MBA from Cleveland State University. Prior to joining Penton, Lee worked as a Communications design engineer for the U.S. Government.

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