GE Using Aviation and MRI Expertise to Advance Wind Turbine Technology

General Electric (GE) is tapping into the knowledge and expertise from its aviation and healthcare businesses to advance its wind turbine technology. The company is researching the design and manufacture of 3-D printed wind turbine blades, and developing a high-efficiency ultra-light low temperature superconducting (LTS) generator.

GE Research, GE Renewable Energy, and LM Wind Power (owned by GE Renewable Energy) have recently been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to research 3-D printed wind turbine blades, with the GE team building on its materials and composites expertise in the aviation industry.

The GE business units will partner with the Oakridge National Lab and the National Renewable Energy Lab on the 25-month USD 6.7 million project to develop and demonstrate an integrated additive manufacturing process for novel high- performance blade designs. The project, which will focus on low-cost thermoplastic skin coupled with printed reinforcement, will deliver a full-size blade tip ready to be structurally tested, as well as three blade tips that will be installed on a wind turbine.

“We were the first to introduce lightweight composite fan blades in our jet engines more than two decades ago. Today, with our business partners and leading National Laboratories, we’re bringing that experience and more to deliver a more advanced wind blade to take wind power to the next level of cost and performance”, said Todd Anderson, Principal Investigator at GE Research.

In mid-January, GE Research Lab was awarded additional USD 20.3 million from the DOE to build and test a prototype of a high-efficiency ultra-light low temperature superconducting (LTS) generator, leveraging innovations from GE’s MRI business.

The generator will be tailored for offshore wind and scalable beyond 12 MW.

The aim of this project is to develop a more powerful generator for offshore wind turbines, while minimising the size and weight of the generator design. In addition, the use of superconducting magnets would also eliminate the need for rare earth materials, essential ingredients in the permanent magnets currently being used in offshore wind turbines.   

“With MRI, we have worked over many decades to increase the magnetic field of the superconducting magnets to deliver better image quality. In wind, we’re seeking to strengthen the magnetic field of the magnet to make generators that deliver more wind power with higher efficiency. And with both applications, the goal is to enable these improvements while minimizing their size and weight”, said David Torrey, a Senior Principal Engineer and Project Leader on the Superconducting generator project.

For the LTS generator project, GE first received a grant from DOE in 2019, together with three other projects developing next-generation drivetrain technologies.

Photo: LM Wind Power