Renewable energy produced from the wind has garnered much attention and support in recent years but is often criticized for its low output and lack of reliability. But now a super power wind turbine has come along that may be just what the renewable energy industry needs. The MagLev wind turbine, which was first unveiled at the Wind Power Asia exhibition in Beijing, is expected take wind power technology to the next level with magnetic levitation.
Magnetic levitation is an extremely efficient system for wind energy. Here’s how it works: the vertically oriented blades of the wind turbine are suspended in the air above the base of the machine, replacing the need for ball bearings. The turbine uses “full-permanent” magnets, not electromagnets — therefore, it does not require electricty to run. The full-permanent magnet system employs neodymium (“rare earth”) magnets and there is no energy loss through friction. This also helps reduce maintenance costs and increases the lifespan of the generator.
Maglev wind turbines have several advantages over conventional wind turbines. For instance, they’re able to use winds with starting speeds as low as 1.5 meters per second (m/s). Also, they could operate in winds exceeding 40 m/s. Currently, the largest conventional wind turbines in the world produce only five megawatts of power. However, one large maglev wind turbine could generate one gigawatt of clean power, enough to supply energy to 750,000 homes. It would also increase generation capacity by 20% over conventional wind turbines and decrease operational costs by 50%. If that isn’t enough, the maglev wind turbines will be operational for about 500 years!
Construction began on the world’s largest production site for maglev wind turbines in central China on November 5, 2007. Zhongke Hengyuan Energy Technology has invested 400 million yuan in building this facility, which will produce maglev wind turbines with capacities ranging from 400 to 5,000 Watts. In the US, Arizona-based MagLev Wind Turbine Technologies will be manufacturing these turbines. Headed by long-time renewable energy researcher Ed Mazur, the company claims that it will be able to deliver clean power for less than one cent per kilowatt hour with this new technology. It also points out that building a single giant maglev wind turbine would reduce construction and maintenance costs and require much less land than hundreds of conventional turbines. The estimated cost of building this colossal structure is $53 million.
Chinese Maglev Wind Turbines Enter Mass Production
Construction has begun on the world's largest production base for magnetic levitation (maglev) wind power generators. According to Xinhua, the base will produce a series of small-scale maglev wind power generators with capacities ranging from 400 to 5,000 watts in the first half of 2008.
So, what the heck is a maglev generator? It improves efficiency by using magnets to reduce friction, meaning that turbines could turn with winds as low as 1.5 meters per second (m/s), and cut-in, or energy-producing, speeds of 3 m/s. The chief developer says this could cut the operational costs of wind farms by up to half, with an overall cost under 0.4 yuan ($US 5 cents) per killowatt hour. Earlier this year, an Arizona based company touted a large-scale maglev turbine, but such technology on that scale has yet to be proved.
For developing countries like China, the technology could be crucial to bringing wind power to places where it is currently un-utilized and perhaps too costly to build. For the developed world too, it could make wind power much cheaper, and wind turbines at home a more realistic option.The company has also said it could even provide roadside lighting along highways by utilizing the airflow generated from passing vehicles (see this idea here).
If licensed to other companies (rather than illegally copied), the technology could help boost China's desperate-to-grow wind power manufacturing industry, which so far has relied on significant cooperation with foreign partners like GE, and has been somewhat stymied by the government's pricing schemes.
But wind is booming in China. It has the world's fifth greatest installed capacity, and is set to reach the government's first major wind goal -- 5 gigawatts by 2010 -- this year.
Though magnets have been used before in pumps and turbines to cut down on the friction of ball bearings, they have typically been electromagnets, which require additional power. The technology behind the generators has not been specified -- obvious concerns about intellectual property in China abound -- but the company has indicated the system relies on a permanent magnet system, which needs no external power, and without which compact DVD and disk drives would not exist.
Many have speculated they use something called Halbach arrays, which help to control the magnetic field. As Jeremy at Worldchanging noted last year, "any permanent magnet system would doubtless need lots of Neodymium ("rare earth") magnets, which may have questionable sustainability when mined in large amounts, but as it happens China is rich in that element." Indeed, China controls 90% of the world market for rare earth elements.
The company notes that the generator's efficiency is 20% better than "traditional" wind turbines. Worldchanging goes on to explain that
The inefficiency of a normal windmill's drive train (which includes the gears, shafts, and bearings, everything that moves except the motor and the turbine blades) is not so terribly big at moderate and high wind speeds. According to a paper by California Wind Energy Collaborative at UC Davis, the average wind turbine's drive train is 87-89% efficient from peak wind speeds down to less than half peak wind speed. However, below roughly a third of peak wind speed, things go rapidly downhill, and by about a quarter of peak wind speed, efficiencies are wallowing sadly in the 30-40% range. The Dutch windmill manufacturer Harakosan advertises a wind turbine that has 93 - 94% drive train efficiency all the way from peak wind speed down to a quarter of peak speed.Either way, for China's growing wind power industry, the maglev is a huge step, and one made even bigger by the current rush to take advantage of China's potential wind power, estimated around 700-1,200 gigawatts. According to the recently released China Wind Power Report 2007, installed capacity in China could reach 50 GW by 2020, accounting for about 4 percent of total power generation.
Zhongke Hengyuan Energy Technology Co Ltd invested 400 million yuan in the construction and expects annual revenue of 1.6 billion yuan.
Clearly, this is only a start. But the technology sounds promising, and might make wind for the home even more attractive. And, with further investment -- and, ahem, better intellectual property protection -- we might see it develop, get scaled up, and transform the economics of wind power.
LinksGuangzhou Zhongke Hengyuan Perpetual Energy Technology Co LtdTreehuggerWorldwatchGlobal Wind Energy CouncilChina Renewable Energy Industries Association SKF FAQ on magnetic levitation in turbines.
Colossal Magnetic Levitation Wind Turbine Proposed
It's a vision of a magnetically levitated wind turbine that can generate one gigawatt of power (enough to power 750,000 homes). This is the device proposed by a new Arizona-based company, MagLev Wind Turbine Technologies. The company claims that it can deliver clean power for less than one cent per kilowatthour using this wind turbine.
Magnetic levitation is a very efficient method of capturing wind energy. The blades of the turbine are suspended on a cushion of air, and the energy is directed to linear generators with minimal fiction losses. But the big advantage with maglev is that it reduces maintenance costs, and increases the lifespan of the generator.
The company also points out that building a single huge turbine like this reduces construction and maintenance costs, and it requires less land space than hundreds of conventional turbines. The company is headed by Ed Mazur, a researcher of variable renewable energy sources since 1981 and inventor of the magnetic levitation wind turbine.
There has been speculation that turbines like these would use "full-permanent" magnets, meaning there are no electromagnets, only cleverly placed permanent ones (probably Halbach arrays).
China already has Maglev wind turbines in operation, see: The World's First "Magnetic Levitation" Wind Turbines Unveiled in China.
This article by WorldChanging goes into the technical details of using maglev in wind turbines.
Web site: MagLev Wind Turbine Technologies
:: Via Business Wire
NuEnergy offers a range of sophisticated 21st century wind turbines designed to capture the wind and more efficiently generate power.
Conventional horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWT) are based upon 16th century Dutch science; the common three-bladed HAWT converts less than 1 percent of the available wind. A traditional wind farm consisting of hundreds of spinning propellers on top of tall poles often creates more problems than energy. HAWT based wind farms are expensive to install, operate and maintain, noisy, inefficient in the conversion of wind to energy and pose dangers to the environment, especially birds. They do not turn in low winds and often need to be slowed or stopped in high winds. If a sailing ship was redesigned to replace the sails and rigging with a propeller attached to the mast, it would never generate enough power to leave the dock.
The Maglev Vertical Wind Turbine addresses these problems and provides a more efficient, versatile and elegant method of producing power from wind. Maglev is short for “magnetically levitated”, meaning the design incorporates magnets to “float” or suspend system components. By definition, a maglev system involves
- Frictionless levitated operation
- Requires no lubricant
- Maintenance free
Maglev is not new technology; it is the basis of the high-speed “Maglev” trains operating in Europe and Asia. The Maglev uses a magnetically levitated low-RPM high-torque power output turbine. The spinning turbine “floats” on a magnetic cushion, just as the high-speed train “floats” above the railroad tracks.
Configured to capture winds from any direction, the Maglev converts wind to energy at very high efficiencies.
NuEnergy is developing small 2.5kW to 50kW maglev wind turbines for local disbursed power generation; some units will be capable of roof mounting.
Working with a technology partner, NuEnergy offers Maglev Power Plants in sizes from 10MW to 1 GW. The advantages of a maglev wind power plant over a traditional wind farm are significant.
|1 GW Maglev Wind Power Plant||Vs.||500 Traditional 3-blade 2 MW HAWT|
|Powers 750,000 homes||Vs.||Powers 500,000 homes|
|Requires less than 100 acres||Vs.||Requires ~ 32,000 acres|
|Costs ~ $2.5 – 3B||Vs.||Costs ~ $11B|
|Makes no noise||Vs.||Each turbine sounds like a motorbike|
|Generates power from wind at low and high speeds||Vs.||Needs higher minimum wind speed to start generating power and needs to be slowed or stopped at higher wind speeds|
|Minimal wildlife impact||Vs.||Spinning blades can be dangerous to wildlife|
|Major components at ground level||Vs.||Major components at top of tall mast.|
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