GE has completed trials of its Hydrogenie, a power generator capable of producing large amounts of electricity from renewable resources in a small space.
Hydrogenie uses superconductors instead of copper for the rotor windings on the motor and operates at -230°C. Until recently, superconductivity could only be achieved at around -269°C.
Martin Ingles, Hydrogenie project manager at GE Power Conversion, hailed the technology as a “true breakthrough”.
“It could radically improve the efficiency of equipment producing electricity from water and from wind and may also be suitable for further applications down the road,” he said.
The latest superconductors are made by depositing a layer of ceramic onto a relatively cheap base metal. They have virtually no resistance to electrical current when cooled to very low temperatures, so windings can be made with wires having a cross section around 2 per cent of a conventional copper wire winding.
GE says it has overcome significant technical challenges relating to the cryogenic cooling and thermal insulation required to keep the superconductors at the required temperature. Extremely cold helium gas is piped through a rotating coupling into the machine rotor and then circulated around the individual coils.
“It’s rather like trying to keep ice cubes frozen on a rotisserie in a very hot oven,” said Ingles, “except that our rotisserie is rather high tech.”
GE says that the most immediate areas of demand for superconductors are in wind power generation and marine propulsion.
It believes that a superconducting wind turbine generator may allow significant reductions of mass mounted on the tower, in turn helping to reduce the cost for the tower itself and its foundations.
Recent studies conducted for GE Power Conversion showed that the lifetime energy saving for a superconducting wind turbine compared to a conventional machine could be as much as 20 per cent for offshore or desert machines above 10 MW.
The Altaimyasoprom farm in Talmenka is installing the Jenbacher generator sets in a two-phase project to create a full-cycle breeding and meat processing facility that can produce up to 330,000 pigs a year.
The first phase started in July 2012 with GE delivering four of its 637kW J312 engines, and the second phase will begin this month when two 1MW J320 engines and a 2MW J612 unit are supplied.