UOW Working on Super Efficient Offshore Wind Turbines

Researchers from University of Wollongong (UOW) are developing technologies for next generation offshore wind turbines that are one-third the price and 1,000 times more efficient, and they could be installed off the coast of Australia in the next five years.

Materials scientist Dr Shahriar Hossain, from the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials at UOW, said current conventional offshore wind turbines cost $15million each to build, are extremely heavy and difficult to ship out to their location, and require a lot of maintenance thanks to a complicated gear box.

“In our design there is no gear box, which right away reduces the size and weight by 40 per cent,” Dr Hossain said.

“We are developing a magnesium diboride superconducting coil to replace the gear box. This will capture the wind energy and convert it into electricity without any power loss, and will reduce manufacturing and maintenance costs by two thirds.”

Superconductors are a new class of materials that carry electricity with no loss of energy, because they have no electrical resistance.

When an electric current is sent into a conduction loop made of conventional copper wire, about 7-10 per cent of this energy is lost due to resistance. The wire heats up and decays quickly. However, if a superconducting material is used, the current will circulate indefinitely even after the power is turned off.

Dr Hossain is developing a magnesium diboride superconducting coil, made from magnesium and boron, which is very cheap and easy to manufacture.

Up to 200km of coil is needed to generate electricity in wind turbines and with current technologies, that coil would cost between $3-5million to manufacture. The same length of magnesium diboride superconducting coil costs $180,000 and that figure could reduce dramatically as magnesium diboride becomes less and less expensive.

By 2015, Dr Hossain’s US industry partner, Hyper Tech Research, projects magnesium diboride coil will be just $1 per metre to manufacture.

In the UK, more than $2.5billion has been invested in offshore wind farms, which provide around 8 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, the equivalent to the electricity consumption of around 2 million homes.

Dr Hossain said if Australia wants to achieve its target of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we need to start investing in renewable energy sources, like wind.

“Australia desperately needs sustainable energy sources. Wind is cheap, clean and we can get it on rainy and sunny days. And considering Australia has more than 35,000km of coastline, there is ample room for offshore wind farms.”

“With industry support, we could install superconducting offshore wind turbines off the coast of Australia in five years, no problem.”

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Press release; Image: uow