UH-led Team Receives $3.1 Million DOE Award to Develop Superconducting Wire for Wind Turbines

The University of Houston will lead a public-private research team that has been awarded $3.1 million by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a low-cost superconducting wire that could be used to power future wind turbines.

This support is part of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, which recently announced it has awarded $156 million to 60 cutting-edge research projects designed to improve how the U.S. produces and uses energy.

UH, in conjunction with SuperPower Inc., the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Tai-Yang Research and TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company, will develop an efficient, low-cost high-temperature superconducting wire (HTS) to use in future advanced wind turbine generators. This breakthrough technology is a key enabling technology for other electromagnetic devices as well.

Venkat “Selva” Selvamanickam, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering, director of the Applied Research Hub of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (TcSUH) and Chief Technology Advisor for SuperPower, will lead the research project.

“This grant will be used to produce a high-performance superconducting wire to build a light, high power and high efficiency wind turbine generator. Superconducting wire enables us to build wind generators with power ratings at 10 megawatt and above, which are suitable for offshore wind power plants,” Selvamanickam said. “The use of high-power generators can reduce installation, maintenance and capital costs of the turbine and the wind power plants.”

“While conventional generator windings are made of copper wire, with a superconducting wire, it is possible to pass hundreds of times more electric current than a copper wire,” Selvamanickam said. “But the cost of superconducting wire is currently very expensive. Our goal is to develop a low cost superconducting wire that will make superconducting wind generators become more practical for widespread use.”  

Arthur P. Kazanjian, general manager at SuperPower, said, “SuperPower, which is now establishing a Specialty Products facility at the UH Energy Research Park, will transition the technology now being developed at UH to SuperPower’s manufacturing plant in Schenectady, N.Y. This project builds on the wire technology that was developed in Schenectady since SuperPower’s formation in 2000 and improved further by a two-fold better performance achieved at UH last year.”

In this project, Tai Yang Research, a Florida-based corporation, will fabricate and test a wind turbine generator coil using the new superconducting wire based on design developed by TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company.

TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company, as the principal purveyor of the generator design, will focus its efforts on the design analysis and manufacturability of the resulting scalable generator design to include cryogenic cooling and quench protection demonstration. TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company will use the new superconducting wire to build offshore wind turbine generators and the next generation of power-dense motors and generators. NREL will evaluate the impact of the enhanced superconducting wire on the overall system performance.

The projects that received ARPA-E support all focus on accelerating innovations in clean technology while increasing the nation’s competitiveness in rare-earth alternatives and breakthroughs in biofuels, thermal storage, grid controls and solar power electronics, the DOE said.

“These innovative projects are at the forefront of a new technological frontier that plays a critical role in our future energy security and economic growth,” says Arun Majumdar, director of ARPA-E. “It is now more important than ever to invest in game-changing ideas that will build the technological infrastructure for a new, clean energy economy.”

This is the second ARPA-E grant awarded to projects involving superconducting research at UH in partnership with SuperPower, the first member of the UH Applied Research Hub. Last September, UH, SuperPower and two other institutions received a $4.2 million grant to develop an affordable, large-scale superconducting magnet energy storage (SMES) system device. Energy storage is crucial in developing the widespread use of wind and solar power.

In that project, Selvamanickam and the UH-SuperPower research group are working to develop an HTS wire that meets the performance and cost requirements of a commercial SMES device through investigation of an innovative manufacturing process.  By comparison, in this project the researchers are investigating new ways to improve the superconducting wire itself, enabling breakthrough use in superconducting generators.

“Both of these projects demonstrate the strength of public-private partnerships to move technology forward in ways that can greatly benefit us all,” said Rathindra N. Bose, UH vice chancellor/vice president of research and technology transfer. “These projects combine all the elements needed to get a new technology to the market – the technology R&D, the development of a high-tech work force, the manufacturing capability, the sub-components and, finally, the path to the marketplace.”

About the University of Houston

             The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 38,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.

About the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

About SuperPower

SuperPower Inc. a subsidiary of Royal Philips Electronics (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHI), was formed in March 2000 to develop and commercialize high temperature superconductor (HTS) technology for applications that benefit from high energy density, high magnetic fields and green attributes, including energy, medical, transportation, research and other sectors. To learn more, visit www.superpower-inc.com.

About Tai-Yang Research

The Tai-Yang Research Company is dedicated to the development of military, space and commercial applications of high temperature superconductor (HTS) materials. To learn more, visit www.tai-yang.com.

About TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company

The TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company is a premier supplier of AC and DC motors and generators for petroleum, chemical, pulp, paper, mining, marine propulsion, steel, electric utility and other industries throughout the world. To learn more, visit www.tecowestinghouse.com.