UH Moment: Building a More Powerful Wind Turbine

A team of University of Houston researchers is developing a superconducting wire with 400 percent the performance of wire available today. The wire uses minimal rare earth materials and aims to increase the power of wind turbines from 2 megawatts to 10 megawatts or more. 

Wind Farm

“We are doing research and developing new techniques, such as introducing nanoscale material in the superconducting wire; thereby improving the performance of the superconducting wire,” said Venkat “Selva” Selvamanickam, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor in the UH Cullen College of Engineering. 

Wind energy is a major application for superconducting wires. According to Selva, there is a need and interest in to develop higher power wind turbines— those that produce 10 megawatts and more (compared to two megawatts)— but there are technological challenges. As wind turbines become larger and more powerful, says Selva, they become very heavier and installation is more costly. Because superconducting wires can carry a lot of current, Selva says they have the potential to create more powerful generators that are half the weight of a traditional copper-based generators.

UH Moment LogoWhile UH is not the only university conducting research on superconducting wires for use in the energy industry, and wind energy specifically, Selva and his team are taking it a step further— figuring out how to take it to the marketplace, which means learning to scale-up the technology so it can be made cost effectively in large quantities.

“We work with our industry partner, Superpower Inc. in New York, to not only develop basic research to make a better superconductor, but also try to figure out if we can scale up the technologies to make a better quality material more consistently, with a higher throughput and high yield,” said Selva. “We are basically making sure that all of the issues related to manufacturing can be addressed.”

Toru Fukushima, research and development director at SuperPower Inc., says technologies that are related to energy research, like the superconducting wires, are becoming more and more important.

“We want to prove it can be used everywhere— nationwide and maybe in other places in the world.  We have a great hope that is happening here,” said Fukushima.