Will SuperConductors SuperCharge Wind Turbines?

February 5, 2013

New Scientist:

WIND turbines may soon get a supercharge. Turbines wound with superconducting wire instead of regular copper could turn today’s 2 to 3-megawatt generators into 10-megawatt powerhouses, say teams in Europe and the US that are racing to produce the machines.

At heart, a wind turbine is simple – a series of wire coils attached to the rotor blade spin in the presence of strong magnetic fields, provided by stationary magnets. This generates a current, but the resistance in copper wire limits the amount of current that can flow through the coils. Making the coils from a resistance-free superconductor would cut down on weight and boost power generation.

Using superconductors will not be easy, though, partly due to the ultra-low temperatures they require. Developing a coil that can be cooled while simultaneously rotating with the turbine blades is a big challenge. A research project dubbed Suprapower, funded by the European Union, kicked off in December to address this problem.

Holger Neumann at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and other members of the Suprapower consortium are betting on a new “high temperature” superconductor, magnesium diboride, which works at 20 kelvin. “It’s light, easily made into wires and is really cheap compared with the old niobium-titanium superconductors, which needed cooling way down to 4 kelvin,” Neumann says. That temperature difference might not sound much but it means, crucially, that cooling the magnesium diboride superconductor requires just one-seventh of the power.

The US team claims to be within a few years of building their own 10-megawatt wind turbine, and says that their techniques could make superconducting wires attractive for distributing electricity as well as generation.

“If we can demonstrate this superconducting-wire technology in a wind turbine, we think it’s more likely that it will make its way into the power cables of the electricity grid,” says Selvamanickam.

21 Responses to “Will SuperConductors SuperCharge Wind Turbines?”

  1. A better example of the types of wind turbine noises.

    I feel your link is a little misleading.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I stopped. I shot. It is what it is.
      I’m sure you can find shoddy turbines here and there. Certainly misleading to focus on those.

      • It was actually constructive criticism. Most of us view your site with a lot of integrity. To imply wind turbines are quieter than crickets is a little misleading (even though that might not have been your intent).

        Even though most wind turbines noise complaints are over the top and a lot of health complaints about wind turbines are for the most part psychosomatic they never the less exists (noise that is). The video I posted did a much better job in identifying different types of sounds wind turbines can make from a variety of causes one of which was shoddy turbines.

        Wind turbines in isolation and on wind farms make noises. When comparing too other noises such as interstate, airplanes, kids playing ball, barking dogs, waterfalls, etc. they are insignificant and not a good reason to not use wind turbines.

    • You are considerably closer to the turbines. Sound levels drop off significantly with distance. Newer wind turbines have no gears. Highways are far noisier than wind turbines.

      Also consider that if noise is the worst thing you can say about wind turbines, then what are we worried about?

      You know what I hate about wind turbines?

      The smokestacks.
      The smoke.
      The smog.
      The mercury pollution.
      The cooling towers.
      The explosions.
      The spills.
      The limited fuel supply.
      The other countries that control the wind.
      The military cost to defend the wind.
      The radiation.
      The death of miners.
      The fly ash.
      The tailing ponds.
      The methane gas releases.
      The huge carbon footprint.
      The increasing cost over time.
      The inefficiency.
      The pipelines.
      The contaminated water.
      The damage to our lungs and overall health done by wind turbines is horrendous.
      The acid rain is nasty.
      The mountaintop removal.
      The waste.

      I also hate the fact that they look like graceful wind sculptures, that let us see the wind. I hate the fact that they are much quieter than a highway. The ranchers and farmers with wind turbines hate the “mailbox money”.


      Not really…


      • You are making the wrong assumption. You need to reread it again Also, I was cautioning that that clip could be used as an example of misinformation about Wind turbines and it was a very small point at that.

        I live in Chattanooga which ironically is now a very green city in a red state and continues to lead in that direction. Before in 1969, it was the most polluted city in the USA (mostly air).
        The company I work for uses a negative amount of electricity. Why? Because we put in a large solar array on the free space we have. Now why is this relevant?

        The company in Chattanooga that put in our array
        http://www.signalwind.com/about# EMJ
        Which by the way invited me to one of their site (installs and not for free but too cool not to passé up). They are big and they surprised me on the amount of noise the one in operation made( up close).

        Now to my point, I have had a number of arguments about green energy wind being one. The ones opposed to them always point to noise and other health problems etc. One thing they point to are the people who make false claims about wind farm making no noise. It is a diversion tactic. The point here is to be very exact. Wind noise is NOT a real problem up to a point. It like saying global warming will cause earth to run away into a twin sister of Venus. Which is a true statement, the trick is that I did not add .5 to 1 billion years from now and that it would be the sun brightening that will drive it. Now sciences claims only 2 to 6 C of warming but yet it will run away also (mixing the two is the problem both are true). Wind noise is real and a problem but only to a point but saying it is not is misleading.

        • uknowispeaksense Says:

          I’m reminded of a man I met once who said, “I have lots of foreign friends so I’m not a racist, I just don’t like Indians and coons.”

        • Martin Lack Says:

          You disappoint me, ACCP (is it OK to call you that?). Your comments are usually sound but all this defence of windbaggers is doing my head in. Their arguments are spurious. End of story. In the context of an energy imbalance equivalent to several Hiroshima explosions per second, noise from a wind turbine could not be more irrelevant.

          Your comments about Earth, Venus and the Sun also seem very prone to being misused by skeptics. I do not think their spurious argumentation needs to be helped like this. Humans now have the potential to destroy (or control) our climate. Therefore, the fact that the Sun will be 10% brighter in one billion years could also not be more irrelevant.

          Furthermore, you appear to ignore the exponential nature of – ermmm -exponential growth; and the loopy nature of positive feedback loops. It is these realities that led James Hansen, in his book Storms of my Grandchilden to warn us all that, if a runaway greenhouse effect was to really take hold, planet Earth could be entirely free of water in less than a thousand years.

          If this sounds like fanciful nonsense then I suggest you – or anyone else who is equally unsure – do as Philip Wenz suggested to another reader of Andy Revkin’s DotEarth blog the other day and:
          Try putting a guitar in front of an amplifier and turning both on. The feedback acceleration goes from zero to 100% of potential in a second or two…

          Mathematics is therefore something else skeptics should stop denying: Exponential growth (fixed annual percentage growth with a constant doubling time)… could easily become super-exponential growth (where % growth increases and doubling time decreases).

          • I truly don’t understand. I am not supporting the windbaggers it is the opposite. It’s my poor communication, sorry.
            “Earth, Venus and the Sun also seem very prone to being misused by skeptics”
            Was my point but about wind noise (misusing it)

            It like this all drawbacks of green energy should not be hidden.
            The 400 solar panels here at my office have a 2 year install warranty and a 20 year warranty and a life expectancy of 35 years. The solar panels will degrade to a point in that warranty in that 20 years. Also they don’t work at night!

            Looking at a hot water solar heater it had a warranty of 15years a life expectancy of 25 years.

            Ex for wind
            Now on one farm that EMJ installed. Was own and operated by another company. They had an operational agreement with the farmer that the noise would not exceed (let’s say) 45dbz at his house. On exceeding that level then they would stop the turbine until it is repaired.

            So the windbaggers (as you say) will misuse sites with videos and other sources that say wind farms don’t make noise.

            Repeating from my post above:” Even though most wind turbines noise complaints are over the top and a lot of health complaints about wind turbines are for the most part psychosomatic they never the less exists (noise that is).”

            The big point here is to NOT give windbaggers ammunition by making misleading information of no noise without context.

            If Peter would have said “.. at this distances of about X miles the noise from the wind turbines is much quitter then the background noise…” would leave little room to misuse.
            But as is (over exaggeration coming ) a windbagger would say “””” Look Peter is another Green @#$ lying again on his video that wind turbines makes NO noise At ALL”””” ( again not me saying this)

            Martin for the most part(Probably all) we are on the same page here!

          • Martin Lack Says:

            OK, ACCP. Let us assume we are on the same page about wind farms (as I always thought we were). What is your reaction to my comments about Hansen’s concern for a water-free Earth in the (cosmological) near-term?

          • uknowispeaksense Says:

            I wouldnt be concerned about giving idiots ‘ammunition’. They are going to talk through their hats regardless. Sensible, uninformed people are able to see through any of their propaganda, and will benefit greatly from the information that Peter has provided here. I would suggest that rather than channelling your energy into criticising someone who is fast establishing himself as a goto man for good information, you use that energy in a msnner that is likely to have a greater impact on the psyche of other sensible but uninformed people.

          • It was in the 70s that I last looked at the math for a simple solar and oceans evap’

            Part of it was the higher UV breaking bonds and the lose of hydrogen in the outer atmosphere [on top of the temp].( If I remember right). But Hansen would be right best I can remember. The point I’m not too sure is what breaks the H2O bonds and how quickly it would do it top down in the atmosphere if we did it now. We were focusing on the Temp and Time which was .5 to 1.5 billion years. We are talking slide rules here at the time it would occur in an instant (less than 0.1billion). This was 40 years ago for me.

            But if I understand what you are asking here is? Once we hit the Temp at the ocean it would run exponential but the H2O would not break down exponential in the Atmosphere that fast But again 40 years ago.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Thanks for that, ACCP. I have yet to see anyone stand behind the prediction Hansen makes at the end of his book. However, I find it very hard to dismiss someone who has sadly been proved right so many times before.

          • I am sorry—you were asking a different question. You were asking about the tipping point of the runaway greenhouse effect. That one I remember a bit better.

            A year or two ago, you may have read an article or news clip about water vapor in the stratosphere. Because of the height of the water vapor, greenhouse gas made the effect stronger. The higher up the greenhouse gas is, the more effective it is in returning heat since water is one of the strongest greenhouse gases.

            This is how it works. If you look at the troposphere and the temperature, and move up in height, you will notice that the temperature drops relatively quickly to where the topopause/stratosphere interface is making a graph in a shape of a lateral V with the bottom point of the V at the tropopause/stratosphere point (oversimplified graph).

            From that point the temperature increases very quickly with height. But it is currently very dry. Because of the cold temperature at the tropopause/stratosphere point being so cold that is why we are not in a current runaway effect. As the ocean warms and evaporates and troposphere expands, water vapor is able to get into the middle part of the stratosphere causing a very quick greenhouse warming. To over simplify, the cold temperature at the tropopause/stratosphere point is pushed warmer in that graph of warm to cold to warm again. Once it hits that magical temperature point, water vapor will expand into the stratosphere quickly, and at that point the tropopause/stratosphere disappears. It becomes one large troposphere filled with water vapor. That’s the runaway point.

            The part I don’t remember is what happens to the water molecules because then it will be replaced with gases similar to Venus now. I can’t remember the chemical processes. It has something to do with our venting hydrogen into the solar wind. The reason I remember that part is that the Apollo astronauts observed hydrogen leaving the outer atmosphere of the earth about the time I was studying this.

            I’m out of town for a week or so. I will not be ab

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Thanks ACCP. I am tempted to respond by saying: “…‘I see’, said the blind man!” but, the truth of the matter is, the more I understand; the less I realise I know.

  2. ahaveland Says:

    Maybe better to keep the superconducting coils stationary, and rotate the magnets, but I’m sure they’ve thought of that already.

  3. Martin Lack Says:

    Even if we can mass produce them, superconductors will be, as copper is, a finite resource. However, I agree with the principle that the best use for fossil fuels is burning them to create the technology that will make them obsolete…

    The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones…

  4. uknowispeaksense Says:

    Those crickets were unusually noisy because the ultralow frequency noise generated by those eyesores affected their mood, making them irritable.

  5. MorinMoss Says:

    How much electricity would one of those turbines be generating at that speed?
    That looks to be a fairly slow rotation but I calculate it to be about 10-12 rpm.

    I’ve found power curves for turbines based on wind speed but not rpm.

  6. MorinMoss Says:

    I’ve been hearing about high-temp / room-temp superconductors for decades and am truly disappointed that we don’t yet have them.

  7. […] New Scientist: WIND turbines may soon get a supercharge. Turbines wound with superconducting wire instead of regular copper could turn today's 2 to 3-megawatt generators into 10-megawatt powerhouses, say teams in …  […]

  8. […] 2013/02/05: PSinclair: Will SuperConductors SuperCharge Wind Turbines? […]

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