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This is an excerpt from the Fourth Quarter 2011 edition of the Wind Program R&D Newsletter.

The Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) is partnering with Advanced Magnet Lab, in Palm Bay, Florida, on one of six projects recently awarded by DOE to help develop next generation wind turbines and accelerate the deployment of advanced turbines for offshore wind energy in the United States.

ANL will work with Magnet Lab, Emerson Electric Company, and BEW Engineering to develop the first fully superconducting direct-drive generator for large wind turbines with the goal to significantly reduce the cost of wind energy while advancing the technology. Advances in drivetrain technologies and configurations will help the United States remain a global leader in wind energy and reduce its future cost.

Direct-drive generators eliminate the need for a gearbox, which reduces weight, eliminates moving parts, and reduces maintenance costs. Turbines based on superconducting technology will have a huge impact on how future electricity is generated by reducing costs and increasing reliability and efficiency.

This early research and development project will focus on using superconducting wires, which have essentially zero electrical resistance, allowing for greater electricity flow and making generators smaller and lighter for their given output. Because superconductors operate at cryogenic temperatures, cooling is important to the system's architecture. For designing the cooling system of the overall generator concept, ANL will build on its extensive expertise and experience in superconductivity, design of cryogenic systems, and large-scale computational fluid dynamics modeling.

The project will also feature a direct-drive generator to eliminate the massive gearbox, typically the component with the highest maintenance costs in conventional wind turbines. Because gearbox size and weight increase rapidly with turbine power rating, the size of future wind turbines is limited by these constraints. New designs, such as superconducting direct-drive generators, may enable turbine sizes in the 10 MW to 15 MW range, or possibly even larger.

The economic viability of large turbines requires a significant reduction of the size and weight of the drivetrain, which can be achieved through the use of superconductors and a very robust turbine structure.

DOE's Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, Illinois, is also working on wind turbine drivetrain reliability issues, advanced superconducting drivetrain concepts, improved methodologies for wind power forecasting, the use of wind power forecasting in power systems operations, and a visual impact risk analysis and mitigation system.