DOE awards $7.5 million to help develop wind turbines

These early research and development projects will focus on reducing the cost of wind energy by increasing component reliability or redesigning drivetrains

Washington, D.C., June 29, 2011 — U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the selection of six projects in four states 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 support thousands of American manufacturing, construction and planning jobs, and reduce the cost of wind energy. 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 operations 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.

Below is the list of the projects selected for awards:

* Advanced Magnet Lab (Palm Bay, Florida) 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, Colorado) 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, California) will develop and test a unique drivetrain design that enables increased serviceability over conventional gearboxes and is scalable to large capacity turbines.

* Dehlsen Associates, LLC (Santa Barbara, California) 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, New York) will design and perform component testing for a 10 MW 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, Colorado) 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 MW, and may be used to retrofit currently deployed 1.5 MW turbines.

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