U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced on Tuesday that six projects in four states (California, Colorado, Florida, and New York) have been selected to receive nearly $7.5 million over two years to advance next-generation designs for wind turbine drivetrains.
Drivetrains, which include a turbine’s gearbox and generator, are at the heart of the turbine and are responsible for producing electricity from the rotation of the blades. The advances in drivetrain technologies and configurations supported through these research and development projects will help the U.S. maintain its position as a global leader in wind energy technologies; support thousands of American manufacturing, construction, and planning jobs in a key renewable energy market; and reduce the cost of wind energy in the future, according to the DOE. The projects will also help promote and accelerate the deployment of advanced turbines for offshore wind energy in the U.S.
These early research and development projects will focus on reducing the cost of wind energy by increasing component reliability or redesigning drivetrains to eliminate the need for some components altogether. For example, direct-drive generators eliminate the need for a gearbox, which reduces weight, eliminates moving parts, and reduces maintenance costs. Increased component reliability means fewer operation and maintenance costs over the lifetime of a wind turbine. Other projects receiving funding will work to increase the amount of energy drivetrains can produce or help develop drivetrain designs that minimize the use of rare earth materials.
Each project has been selected to receive up to $700,000 to conduct technology cost and readiness assessments during Phase I. Following the six-month Phase I funding period, several of the projects will be selected for award negotiations of up to an additional $2 million each over 18 months. Projects selected for Phase II awards will use the funding to conduct performance tests of the specific drivetrain components.
The projects selected for awards follow:
- Advanced Magnet Lab (Palm Bay, Fla.) will develop an innovative superconducting direct-drive generator for large wind turbines. The project will employ a new technology for the drivetrain coil configuration to address technical challenges of large-torque electric machines.
- Boulder Wind Power (Boulder, Colo.) will test an innovative permanent magnet-based direct-drive generator to validate performance and reliability of a large utility-scale turbine. Design requirements and optimization will also be documented for turbines up to 10 megawatts and for turbines deployed in offshore applications. The proposed generator design may operate at higher efficiencies than other permanent magnet generators.
- Clipper Windpower (Carpinteria, Calif.) will develop and test a unique drivetrain using a chain drive to replace the gearbox. This proposed design enables increased serviceability over conventional gearboxes and is scalable to large-capacity turbines.
- Dehlsen Associates, LLC (Santa Barbara, Calif.) will design and test components of an innovative direct-drive concept. The proposed drivetrain configuration eliminates the need for gearboxes, power electronics, transformers, and rare earth materials. The design may also be applicable to marine hydrokinetic, or ocean power, devices.
- GE Global Research (Niskayuna, N.Y.) will design and perform component testing for a 10-megawatt direct-drive generator employing low-temperature superconductivity technology. The proposed generator employs a unique stationary superconducting component design that reduces the risk of fluid leakage.
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, Colo.) will optimize and test a hybrid design that combines the advantages of geared and direct drives through an improved single-stage gearbox and a non-permanent magnet generator that reduces the need for rare earth materials. The technology developed will be scalable to 10 megawatts and may be used to retrofit currently deployed 1.5-megawatt turbines.
The awards will be issued through the DOE’s Wind and Water Power Program, which works to research, test, develop, and deploy innovative wind energy technologies.