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A new project spearheaded by Spanish technology research and development center Tecnalia aims to design high-capacity offshore wind turbines that are much smaller and lighter than the ones currently on the market.

Although some companies - such as AMSC and Norway-based Sway Turbine - have announced plans to develop a 10 MW machine, they have encountered obstacles in bringing these high-capacity turbines to scale. For instance, the turbines' larger size and heavier weight drive up production costs, as well as present logistical challenges.

Meanwhile, Vestas and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which are reportedly in talks to collaborate on an 8 MW offshore wind turbine, have taken a different approach to overcoming these market barriers. Although the companies would only say they were pursuing a “strategic cooperation,” industry analysts speculated that the collaboration would likely involve sharing the costs of developing the new technology.

The goal of the Tecnalia project - dubbed SUPRAPOWER - is to develop new technologies designed to decrease the size and weight of high-capacity turbines and, in turn, reduce their cost. Tecnalia researchers say that superconductivity may be the answer, and the project will consider all of the aspects of electric conversion, integration and the turbines’ ability to be manufactured to scale.

Through the use of a compact superconducting generator, the SUPRAPOWER project will aim to reduce the size and cost of offshore wind turbines by about 30%. The project will also seek to cut the costs associated with transporting and maintaining the turbines, as well as to increase the turbine life cycle through a new type of direct-drive system.

Furthermore, researchers will aim to improve the reliability and efficiency of high-capacity wind turbines through a drivetrain-specific integration in the nacelle.

The project is four years in the making and has already received a patent for the design concept, Tecnalia says. Several companies have signed on to the project, including turbine manufacturer Acciona, superconducting wire developer Columbus, cryogenic systems supplier OLV and offshore engineering company D2M. Several research partners and universities, including IEE and SOTON, are also participating.

The project, which is estimated to cost approximately 5.4 million euros, runs through November 2016.


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