31 Oct '13
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
An innovative company from Chelyabinsk, SRC-Vertical, has developed a family of vertical axis wind-driven power generators that are eco-friendlier than conventional windmills, and can generate electricity irrespective of a wind direction. The team that began to grow its current expertise more than ten years ago on a US energy grant and has a track record of projects commercialized in America now wants to focus on the nascent Russian regional alternative energy market, especially customers in far-off areas and agribusinesses.
Vertical axis wind-driven power units, a relatively new segment that has been on the radar of alternative energy customers for just about 30 years, may one day outperform in the global market the traditional ‘propellers,’ horizontal axis systems that have been evolving for centuries, the SRC-Vertical team of developers believes.
The company from Chelyabinsk, staffed chiefly by engineers and researchers working also at South-Urals State University, has been focused since last year on an array of products varying in power-generating capacity from 100W to 100kW.
The project owner
SRC-Vertical spun off in 2002 as a wind energy focused innovative company from the Federal State Rocket Center (Makeyev Design Bureau) headquartered in the city of Miass, Chelyabinsk region, and from the Chelyabinsk-based Uralmet Research Institute. Its parent organizations have engaged in alternative energy related R&D since 1991.
The company specializes in making low and mid-range capacity wind-driven power plants as well as self-contained water purification sets, wind-powered hydrogen uninterrupted power supply modules using cryogenic technology, and some other products.
The vertical axis wind power project is a multipartite international effort that was enhanced considerably in 2004 with the involvement of the US Department of Energy. With its $1.3m grant, and two sizable American players in the field of wind energy, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Empire Magnetics, coming on board to co-develop next gen wind turbines, the Russian project got off the ground, enlisting support of state-owned Federal Kumertau Aviation Enterprise from Russia’s Bashkortostan along the way.
With new grants from the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) and further assistance from its US partners the Chelyabinsk team has developed an original shape of the wind rotor and an innovative blade design that SRC-Vertical claims ensure up to 38% efficiency at any wind direction.
What’s new about the solution
At the heart of the new family of products is the US and Russian patented wind rotor, the main component of the wind turbine that the developers say enables a “self-start at a wind speed of just 3.5m/sec, and smooth rotation facilitated by its ‘two-tier’ design (with the upper blades displaced relative to the lower ones by 60 degrees).
With what SRC-Vertical feels is an optimal ‘angle of wind attack’ using the new product in power generation is said to make it possible to ‘catch’ wind gusts. For example, with an anemometer showing no wind at all, or tiny 1 m/sec breeze, the sophisticated rotor will rotate as if at a wind speed of 6 m/sec.
The team of developers offers customized options for a variety of applications. On some versions of the generators, like the 30kW turbine, ‘wing flaps’ can be mounted to boost power generation at low winds. For operations in the Arctic or other extremely cold conditions, there’s a special coal-plastic tape that is said to help prevent the blades from icing.
The speed of the wind rotor’s rotation is fully controlled in the Chelyabinsk system, the company says. The SRC-Vertical engineers have designed what they call ‘aerodynamic brakes,’ a component that stabilizes rotation and checks excessive acceleration of the rotor.
With an eye to home affairs
According to SRC-Vertical CEO Yevgeny Solomin, the Chelyabinsk products have already been commercialized in the United States. The wind power systems have been used for electricity production in a variety of applications, including power supply for US military bases. An SRC-Vertical developed electric motor is now part of NASA’s Mars rover program.
With the very competitive pricing compared to imports the company wants to focus on the Russian market. In a country that is only 30% electrified, there are huge areas where the cost of building long-distance power transmission lines is prohibitive, and people have to get electricity by burning local forests or diesel fuel. In Russia’s Far East, for example, the cost of a conventional kilowatt-hour is over 20 cents, way beyond a typical cost for European Russia.
In addition to improving economics the new Chelyabinsk solution is also said to care for the environment. Completely noiseless, it produces no low-frequency vibration harmful to man and animals, a typical side effect of horizontal axis ‘propellers,’ and can be “mounted even on the roof of a hospital.”
SRC-Vertical hopes the domestic market for alternative energy systems, currently barely existent, will include customers in far-off rural and hard-to-reach steppe or mountainous areas. A special focus is on Russian farmers, a small but growing class in this country.