Advanced wind turbine design eliminates need for rare earth metals

Sep 22, 2011 12:00 AM

by Jonathan Benson

The bumbling, inefficient reputation of current wind energy technology just might get the game-changing overhaul it needs to become a viable form of clean energy production, thanks to a new permanent magnet generator (PMG) design created by Boulder Wind Power (BWP).
According to a recent report by Green Tech Media, the budding technology does not require the use of expensive, environmentally-damaging rare earth metals typically imported from China, and it also generates electricity at a lower cost than traditional coal-burning plants are able to do.

Most wind turbines in use today rely on complicated gearboxes that run at high temperatures, that wear out easily, and that are difficult and expensive to maintain. They also require the use of dysprosium, an expensive, rare-earth metal obtained from China, a country whose track record of environmental friendliness leaves much to be desired (http://www.naturalnews.com/028160_rare_earth_metals_mining.html).
In other words, the lofty price of dysprosium, which can run as high as $ 2,000 per kilo (2.2 pounds), combined with the frequent need to maintain and replace a slew of intricate turbine parts, has made current wind energy production technologies inadequate and unable to compete in the energy market apart from government subsidization.

The PMG design, however, eliminates the gear-driven system, which BWP describes as "a bunch of very high precision, high quality steel parts in a gear box," with a direct drive system that is "basically one big moving part."
And since this single part relies on neodymium, which is one-twentieth the price of dysprosium, and mined in California using an environmentally-friendly extraction process, its potential to replace current wind energy technologies is essentially a given.

But the biggest reason why the PMG wind design is sure to take off is that it actually produces energy for less than both current wind energy technologies and traditional coal technologies do.
With the capacity to produce energy at a cost of roughly $ 0.04 per kWh, without government subsidization, PMG's economic viability alone is enough to eventually propel it to the forefront of the clean energy market.

"We're not inventing new science," said BWP CEO Sandy Butterfield.
"We don't expect the rotor to change. We don't expect the tower to change. The nacelle -- everything between the tower and the rotor -- will have significant changes. But it's all mechanical engineering."

Sources for this story include:
http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/how-can-wind-generate-electricity-at-four-cents-per-kilowatt-hour/

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