Printed Circuit Boards Inspire Lighter Wind Turbines

One of the major hurdles facing the development of better, bigger wind turbines is how to grow larger without becoming heavier and more cumbersome. The manufacture, assembly and transportation of wind turbines is already expensive and requires special machinery to handle the large loads, but if we want to produce more power from wind, making larger and more powerful turbines is necessary. GE is looking into fabric-covered wind turbine blades that would be lighter even in greater sizes, but there are many more possibilities to explore.

Wind technology company Boulder Wind Power has come up with an interesting way to make powerful wind turbine generators without adding weight. The startup has created a generator that is inspired by printed circuit board design.

Gigaom reports, "A generator’s motor is made up of a rotating component called the rotor and a stationary part called the stator. In a typical generator today, both the rotor and the stator are made with iron wrapped with copper coils to create the magnetic field for producing mechanical energy, which will then be converted to electricity.

But what Boulder Wind Power has done is to engineer a different kind of stator by printing copper wires onto fiber glass and laminating layers of fiber glass together to create a stator that looks, and works, like a printed circuit board, said Andy Cukurs, the startup’s CEO. This design doesn’t use iron, but it does add a magnet to the whole generator to create that magnetic field. In the end, what you get is a stator sandwiched between the magnet-lined rotor."

What results is a generator for a 3MW turbine that would weigh 40 percent less than conventional generators. For a 200 ton tower, that could mean a weight savings of 6 - 10 tons and that weight savings translates into cost savings for manufacturing and transporting wind turbines.

It's also more efficient and able to operate at lower wind speeds. As Boulder Wind Power states on their website, "The BWP design eliminates the mechanical losses associated with a gearbox, while leveraging the higher efficiencies at lower operating speeds enabled by permanent magnet rotor excitation."

The company is working on a prototype of its technology for a customer that should be ready in the next year or so. That unnamed customer will test out the design and make an order for more if all goes well.

Printed Circuit Boards Inspire Lighter Wind Turbines
A light-weight motor for wind turbine generators borrows the design of a printed circuit board.

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