GE MRI technology might enable 15-MW wind turbine

GE will use magnetic technology from its MRI systems, and $3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, to develop a next-generation wind turbine generator that could support large-scale wind applications in the 10 to 15 MW range.

With the wind industry moving toward larger wind turbine platforms in the future, GE Global Research (Niskayuna, N.Y., USA), the technology development arm of the General Electric Co., on Aug. 30 announced it has begun work on the first phase of a two-year, $3 million project from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a next-generation wind turbine generator that could support large-scale wind applications in the 10 to 15 MW range.

“With the industry’s desire for higher megawatt machines to maximize clean wind power opportunities in the U.S. and around the globe, new technologies will be needed to support larger scale wind platforms,” said Keith Longtin, wind technology seader, GE Global Research. “The key challenge will be delivering solutions that achieve the right scale and cost. Applying more than 30-plus years of experience with superconducting magnets for MRI systems in healthcare, we’re developing an innovative new generator technology that will deliver more power while at the same time helping to reduce the cost of wind power.”

“For MRI systems, we’re applying superconducting magnets to make lower cost systems with higher image quality,” Longtin said. “For wind turbines, we want to apply them to generate more wind power at a lower cost of electricity. The applications are different, but the basic technology is the same.”

Today, most wind turbines have conventional generators that are connected to a gearbox. The gearbox is used to step up lower blade speeds into higher speeds, so that you can reduce the torque requirements before it reaches the generator. While extremely effective in wind turbines out in the field today, they will incur higher costs as they are scaled up to larger wind platforms because of additional weight and maintenance needs that will be required.

In addition to the next-generation wind turbine generator project, GE researchers are driving other key technologies that will enable the economic scale-up of wind. Major highlights include:

  • Incorporating lighter, more advanced composite materials to enable longer wind blades that enhance wind capture without adding so much weight that it increases the cost of power;
  • Delivering more advanced controls, sensors and condition monitoring algorithms to dramatically reduce operating costs; and
  • Developing an array of grid integration technologies to seamlessly integrate larger amounts of wind into the grid. These technologies are focused on making sure wind turbines are grid-code compliant and provide new, grid-friendly features to help utilities more reliably manage larger wind power loads.

The generator project will have two phases. Phase I will focus on developing a conceptual design and evaluating the economic, environmental, and commercial factors associated with it. Phase II will explore the potential commercialization of the technology. The Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) will be a key partner with GE on the generator project, helping GE to investigate and mitigate high-risk technology challenges associated with the project.