A superconductive breakthrough for wind energy
The world's first superconducting wind turbine will be installed this year off the coast of Denmark - a landmark achievement by an EU-funded project that is set to revolutionise the wind-energy industry through the deployment of lighter, more cost efficient and more potent generators.
© Fokke #205346720, 2018 fotolia.com
Capable of producing more than three megawatts of electricity, enough to power a thousand homes, the two-bladed wind turbine will feature a unique high-temperature superconductor generator developed in the EU-funded ECOSWING project. Weighing 40 % less than conventional generators, the state-of-the-art machine requires fewer manufacturing resources and is more cost-effective to build, transport and install.
Already successfully tested in the lab, the field test on the turbine, which is operated by Envision Energy in Thyborøn, Denmark, will pave the way for the commercial deployment of a next generation of multi-megawatt turbines. This has the potential to open up new markets for wind power, supporting the global transition to renewable energy and ultimately lowering electricity costs.
The ECOSWING project, involving nine industrial and academic partners, represents a breakthrough in the application of high-temperature superconductor technology for wind turbine generators as a potential replacement for today’s heavy and costly permanent magnet direct-drive generators.
“The ECOSWING consortium has been successful in designing, developing and manufacturing the first full-scale multi-megawatt superconducting wind generator. This demonstration in a real-world operational environment will lay the foundations for a groundbreaking product that will change the way wind turbines operate and greatly expand the wind-energy sector,” says project communications manager Jürgen Kellers at ECO 5 in Germany.
Lighter, cheaper, cooler
Current generators work much like a traditional dynamo, with rotating magnets inside a set of copper coils. The rotation creates a variable magnetic field in the coils, which generates an electric current.
In the ECOSWING superconducting generator, the magnets are replaced by coils of ceramic-metallic tape that become superconductive under extremely cold conditions, achieved by containing the coils within a vacuum drum super-cooled with small amounts of cryogenic gas. At temperatures of around -240°C, about 30°C above absolute zero, electricity passes through the coils with almost no resistance, enabling energy flows 100 times greater than in standard generators.
The much lower resistance means that far less material, including valuable rare-earth metals, are required in a high-temperature superconducting generator compared to a traditional model to achieve the same energy output, resulting in substantial cost and weight reductions.
The same benefits will also allow wind turbines to be scaled up. The ECOSWING team envisions future superconductor generators producing 10MW or more, with the reduced weight and size of next-generation devices helping to overcome barriers from high construction, transportation and installation costs at both onshore and offshore wind farms.
In the wind
If the ECOSWING field test proves successful, that goal should be within reach in a matter of years. The project partners have already greatly advanced the technological and commercial readiness of many components, overcoming key challenges to the effective deployment of high-temperature superconducting technology in wind turbines subjected to harsh environmental conditions, vibrations and continuous unsupervised operation.
“We have improved and scaled up manufacturing capacity within this project for many new components. For example, ECOSWING has had a big impact on the quality and stability of high-temperature superconductor wire manufacturing capabilities, increasing production from metres to kilometres per week a rate so far unmatched in Europe,” Kellers says.
“Each partner has been able to improve their individual product offerings, and together we have developed a groundbreaking product that is demonstrating a key enabling technology for renewable energy, one of Europe’s key growth markets.”