Research grant awarded to prof
The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has awarded a $3.1 million grant to a research team led by Venkat Selvamanickam, a chaired professor of mechanical engineering, for his efforts to form a superconducting wire that increases the efficiency of wind turbines.
“ARPA-E is a very competitive program,” Selvamanickam said. “I’m certainly happy that we’ve been able to get this award.”
Though the Department of Energy received more than 80 proposals, only 14 were awarded grants.
Selvamanickam said two of the 14 winning proposals were based on superconducting wires.
Currently, wind turbine generators use permanent magnets made from rare earth elements. China holds 93 to 97 percent of the world’s rare earth elements supply and placed an embargo on exports of these rare materials.
Selvamanickam said this has put the rest of the world in a difficult position.
“The department is looking for ways to minimize the amount of rare materials that are used,” Selvamanickam said.
“Or find ways to completely eliminate the use of permanent magnets.”
The use of superconducting wire as a substitute for permanent magnets will boost efficiency on wind farms.
“Superconducting turbines allow you to generate, transmit and use electricity more efficiently,” Selvamanickam said.
The magnet-powered wind turbines’ power rating is around 2 megawatts, and the use of superconducting wire can increase it to 10 megawatts. This will help minimize the amount of turbines needed to maintain the same level of output, which can also alleviate maintenance costs for turbines, according to Selvamanickam.
In addition to increased efficiency, the use of superconducting wire will have a positive environmental impact.
Selvamanickam said anytime you’re working to improve the efficiency of technology that produces clean energy, the environment will benefit from it.
“It’s not too often that you see both the environmental and economic benefit in the same package,” he said.
Selvamanickam is working with SuperPower Inc., the department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Tai-Yang Research and TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company.
“We have a nice, complete value chain from research to manufacturing,” Selvamanickam said.
He expects to find a commercial application for the wire within the next five years.
This is not the only project Selvamanickam has supported with ARPA-E funding. He is also working with SuperPower to develop a device that will help with energy storage.
“The challenge is that with wind and solar being intermittent sources of energy, we need to able to store so we can use it any time,” Selvamanickam said.