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Energy technology renews its future in Western PA

Converteam‘s growth reflects a strong demand for its power drive systems, which includes generators for wind turbines. And while Converteam builds new generation technology, PPG Industries, at its research facility in Allison Park, is developing super-strength, lightweight materials and coatings to build propeller blades that capture the wind and turn the generators.

During recent meetings with international and local journalists organized by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, both companies expressed a similar challenge in different domains of wind power technology. A renewable power source may place less stress on the environment. However, it still will take a beating from the environment in which it operates. These companies bring decades of experience to engineering challenges. But renewable energy is a new form of power, and the companies face a new learning curve as they try to make it work.

That’s why Converteam Vice President Shoun Kerbaugh and Business Development Manager James Esneault emphasize a similar point as PPG’s Wind Energy Market Developer Cheryl Richards. The nation needs to get behind the research that will enable renewable energy to accelerate its development — and become a major creator of new jobs.

Of course, the companies make strides on their own. Converteam highlighted a new line of fully-fed, permanent magnets that drive the power train without gears to match generator speeds to variations in wind velocity. But there are many other efficiencies to be found. Individual wind generators still produce relative small volumes of electricity.

And engineers have only begun to learn how to build wind machines that last. Many challenges can be seen on the leading edges of propeller blades – large surfaces that operate under formidable conditions. Those surfaces need protection from lightning strikes and airborne debris, which can cause extensive damage to blades rotating at speeds up to 300 miles per hour at their tips. With luck the blades operate efficiently for more than a handful of years. However, wind power must replace conventional generators that continue in service for three or four decades.

Wind mills are large and complex machines. Current wind generators producing 1.5 megawatts use 40-meter propellers – equivalent to the wingspan of a 747 airliner. Next generation generators producing 5 megawatts of power require 61.5 meter blades – an arm span extending almost 30 percent farther than a football field. And they work together in large numbers. A wind farm producing power equivalent to a 500-megawatt coal plant would require about 333 of the smaller or 100 of the larger generators.

No wonder there’s a need for so much research.

Source: PPG Industries, Converteam
Writer: Joseph Plummer

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