Americans are getting more and more electricity from wind power—it has been responsible for 30 percent of all new generating capacity added in the U.S. over the last five years. Despite this expansion, one of the major challenges facing wind power is the trade-off between the fast rotational speeds required by generators and the slower speeds essential to preventing rotor and blade damage.
Recently, a team of researchers in at the University of Wollongong in Australia came up with an innovative potential solution to the problem.
The Power of Magnets
Because the blades of a typical wind turbine must rotate slowly, most designs use a complicated, heavy gearbox to convert slow speed of the blades into the higher rate of revolutions the generator requires. This is expensive, and gearboxes are a common source of turbine failure. Adding larger generators and rare earth magnets allows designers to eliminate the gearbox by creating electromagnetic fields, but such magnets are expensive and the larger generator weighs as much as the gears.
The Australian team developed a set of superconductors made of magnesium diboride to replace the magnets. These are more efficient, meaning a smaller generator can be used, and can be cooled with off-the-shelf components, making the superconducting technology affordable, lightweight and reliable.
While more testing and development is underway, these components could lead to vastly more effective wind turbines, helping provide clean, efficient energy around the world.