Superconducting Generators to Cut Costs
Whenever one tries to grow a technology out of local situations to commercial levels, they will find issues that have grown as well. Wind power is no exception as researchers are finding its efficiency is limited by the materials and methods the technology currently employs. Now researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and eight other partners are working on a new design that should cut costs greatly while also increasing output.
Traditional generators use permanent magnets to create a magnetic field which is then used to generate electricity. The stronger the magnets the more power can be generated, but making strong magnets requires rare earth metals, which are often expensive and heavy. What the researchers are working on is a new design for wind turbines which utilize superconductors to create the magnetic fields and then carry the induced current out of the generator. This is not an easy thing to accomplish though as the superconductors to be used must be kept at 20 K (-253.15 ºC).
When completed, such a direct-drive superconducting generator could produce 10 megawatts of power, but with less than one percent of the amount of rare earth metals used in conventional generators. This new design will also decrease transport and maintenance costs while extending the life of the turbine, making the design an all-around improvement of what is currently used.