GreenSpur Wind, based in the UK, and Niron Magnetics, based in the US, have announced important progress in the search for rare-earth-free permanent magnets for use in offshore wind turbines.

Over the past five years, GreenSpur Wind has developed a rare-earth-free generator that has undergone extensive testing at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult in Blyth, UK, where the company is now focusing on its commercialization. Niron Magnetics is developing the world’s first manufacturing process to mass-produce permanent magnets powered by Clean Earth Magnet technology, which is based on iron nitride.

Together, the companies are developing a new, lighter and highly efficient rare-earth-free generator solution for the offshore wind market, which has been verified by ORE Catapult.

GreenSpur Wind Commercial Director, Andrew Hine, said: “Existing turbines use radial-stream generators, current designs depend on rare earth magnets. We, however, employ a unique and highly innovative axial-flux architecture that enables the use of rare-earth-free magnets. Our patented concept can eliminate the risks associated with supply chain constraints and volatile prices”.

Previous iterations of the GreenSpur generator have attracted interest, but there were concerns about its weight. Keeping the weight of the generator in the same range as existing machines is important because increasing it requires more structural support, which increases costs.

By designing with “Generation 1 Clean Earth Magnet,” which offers much stronger magnetic action than the ferrites used in earlier generator designs, a new 15-MW wind turbine generator has been developed. Based on preliminary unoptimized results, the new generator provides a significant 56% weight reduction.

Supported by an Innovate UK grant, the new 15-MW generator design has been reviewed by ORE Catapult. The process has confirmed that the design is now able to meet the weight and performance targets required by the offshore wind market.

Niron Magnetics CEO, Andy Blackburn, said: “Our Clean Earth Magnet technology helps eliminate reliance on expensive, supply-limited, rare-earth-free permanent magnets without compromising performance”.

He added: “Device designers and manufacturers are embracing our technology and realizing its impact. By working with GreenSpur, we have been able to demonstrate what can be achieved with our Generation 1 technology in wind applications, with innovative materials and innovative device design combining to enable a potentially transformative solution for the offshore market”.

ORE Catapult’s Director of Major Projects and Assets, Tony Quinn, said: “We have been working with GreenSpur Wind for several years supporting their innovative and groundbreaking technology”.

“While there was interest in a rare-earth-free solution, there were concerns that their generator would be too heavy. However, with Niron’s rare-earth-free magnet, GreenSpur is able to demonstrate an attractive weight and efficiency and a credible solution for consideration as part of the next-generation turbine”.

“We are now helping GreenSpur and Niron to present this opportunity to turbine equipment manufacturers (OEMs), developers and strategic investors. The goal is to create an industry consortium with the right mix of participants to bring this offering to the market”. Work on the formation of the consortium is underway.

The current generation of direct drive generators used in today’s offshore wind turbines are based on rare earth magnets. Not only is their supply dominated by China, but there is also competition for the supply of magnets from other fast-growing industries.

Commercial Director Andrew Hine believes the risk that the rare earth magnesium supply chain poses to the offshore wind sector to be “existential”. “Now, for the first time, we have a path that removes this risk”, he concluded.

Source: GreenSpur, Niron Magnetics , Riviera Martime Media