A wind turbine efficiency breakthrough by Dr Markus Mueller and Dr Alasdair McDonald of the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Energy Systems has the potential to revolutionize the wind energy industry by making large turbines more failure-proof by cutting their weight in half.
It is expensive and hazardous sending workers out to off-shore wind farms for repairs when there is a mechanical failure. By reducing the weight, the researchers reduce mechanical failures, caused by the sheer stresses in these very large turbines.
Edinburgh’s Institute for Energy Systems does extensive engineering research on generators and electrical machines for a variety of renewable energy systems, including wind turbines, wave energy converters and tidal current systems.
The researchers there have developed a system that is simpler to assemble and manufacture, and laid out their suggestion in a paper (pdf) presented at the 2008 European Wind Energy Conference.
Till now; the blades of wind turbines have been connected to a generator via a gearbox. Their technology substituted a “C” shaped core generator (initially in a 20 kW prototype) to test to see if by changing the mechanical structure of the generator they could still maintain rigidity and structural integrity while cutting the weight by more than half.
The design is simply a novel arrangement of the electromagnetically active components: the magnets, steel and copper inside the generator and the copper coils.
The researchers have formed NGenTec; a spin-off company, with the help of Derek Douglas, an entrepreneur familiar with raising money for start-ups. The University will retain a minority stake in the new business.
NGenTec hopes to raise £4 million to demonstrate that their improvement will also work full scale; at the 6MW level, and then a further £10 million to set up an assembly and manufacturing operation. The technology would reduce costs for both land-based and off-shore wind farms, while having a more marked effect on repair costs of hard to-get-to locations.