Scottish invention promises power revolution

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Dr Markus Mueller, of the University of Edinburgh, solved the engineering problem with Alasdair McDonald

A radical new design of electrical generator that solves an engineering quandary and promises to be cheaper, lighter and more reliable than anything currently available has been unveiled by scientists at the University of Edinburgh.

The work by Markus Mueller and Alasdair McDonald at the university’s Institute of Energy Systems has solved one of the fundamental engineering problems faced by builders of offshore wind turbines.

A new company, NGenTech, was formed ten days ago to exploit the new design. It is chaired by Derek Shepherd, a former managing director of Aggreko International, a Glasgow-based supplier of mainly diesel-fuelled generators.

Mr Shepherd said of NGenTech: “Our technology has the potential to revolutionise the renewable energy industry by making wind power cheaper and more reliable and greatly increasing the efficiency of wind turbines for electricity companies.”

The blades of conventional turbines are connected to a generator via a gearbox. In harsh conditions at sea, this is prone to breakdown, leading to costly repairs which themselves are at the mercy of the weather.

The alternative is to dispense with the gearbox and connect the blades directly to a generator via an axle.

The institute’s design — through a novel arrangement of the magnets inside the generator and the copper coils that produce electricity as they pass the magnets — has succeeded in cutting the weight of direct-drive generators by up to half and made assembly much easier. A prototype installed on a wind turbine has proved that the design works.

Derek Douglas, an entrepreneur specialising in raising finance for start-up companies, has joined NGenTech with the aim of raising £4 million to prove that a 6MW generator would work and then a further £10 million to set up an assembly and manufacturing operation.

He said: “Although our technology has applications onshore, offshore is where we think there is the most added value. It means that you don’t need such big towers and such deep foundations.”

Mr Douglas said that NGenTech, in which the University of Edinburgh has taken a 17.5 per cent stake, had the potential to be one of the most successful spin-out companies the university has had.

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