The University of Houston is developing an efficient, low-cost, high-temperature superconducting wire to use in future advanced wind turbine generators. Mechanical Engineering Professor Venkat “Selva” Selvamanickam is director of the Applied Research Hub of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH.
“The maintenance costs are high. You know, every year somebody has to go and do some maintenance on the gear box on the wind turbines. So this project that we have is to develop a superconducting wire that can be used to make a wind generator. And the advantage of this is that you can go to very high power levels.”
Conventional generator windings are made of copper wire, but a superconducting wire made of rare earth materials could pass hundreds of times more electric current. A lot of those materials currently must come from China.
“Permanent magnets are used widely in electric motors, and right now the rare earth materials which is used in these magnets are primarily produced in China. In fact, China produces over 97 percent of these rare earth materials and recently — a couple of years ago — they placed restrictions on supplier export of these rare earth materials.”
The three-year project is the second grant for superconducting research at the University of Houston. Last year, a grant was awarded for developing an affordable, large-scale superconducting magnet energy storage device. This project is to improve the superconducting wire itself.
In 2010 the University of Houston received a five-year, $3.6 million grant from the state’s Emerging Technology Fund to aid in the development and commercialization of products based on high-temperature superconductors. Superconductivity uses certain ceramic materials that are cooled with liquid nitrogen so they have no electrical resistance. Venkat “Selva” Selvamanickam, professor of mechanical engineering at UH, talks about the work that UH and SuperPower, Inc., are doing to further superconductor products, including a wire that is being tested by the U.S. Department of Energy in smart electric grid project.