System burns biofuels to keep wind turbines spinning

Wind turbines might be effective at generating clean energy from the wind, but only when the wind is blowing.

Now, Hybrid Turbines of Lafayette, Colorado, has developed a solution to the problem. The company’s patent-pending design burns biofuels or natural gas to spin wind-turbine generators even if the wind is not blowing.

Its so-called SmartGen system burns a fuel in a combustion chamber to spin a gas turbine, which drives a compressor to compress air, which is then is stored in a tank. The compressed air is consequently used to spin a turbo-air motor connected to the wind-turbine generator, producing power on demand. An automatic clutch disconnects the wind-turbine blades from the generator when an air motor is engaged.

Nick Verini, president at Hybrid Turbines, said: ’Wind turbines, even in good wind resource areas, typically generate rated power only 30 per cent of the time because the wind blows intermittently or at a lower wind velocity. Our SmartGen system, which is designed to be incorporated into new wind-turbine designs, enables them to generate power at their rated capacity 100 per cent of the time.’

While it might seem more effective to burn the fuel directly instead of compressing air and spinning the generator with an air motor, the company believes that it is cheaper to use the existing wind-turbine generator, inverter and grid-tie installation than supplying a separate electric back-up generator.

While that might be debatable, the company admits that some of its customers are more interested in a standalone genset to serve as a micro-power generator or back-up system.

As such, the company intends to begin a programme to develop a standalone turbo-generator based on its turbo-compressor design. The project will commence in November this year and the company plans to have a completed unit by May 2011.