Alstom wants greater exposure for new technology

Alstom says its flagship piece of turbine technology is achieving its goal of reducing strain on turbine gearboxes but is struggling to win widespread recognition.

Alstom Wind vice-president Alfonso Faubel
Alstom Wind vice-president Alfonso Faubel

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In a wide-ranging interview with Windpower Monthly, Alstom Wind vice-president Alfonso Faubel says the firm's Pure Torque product is pleasing customers but failing to catch as many eyes as the company would hope.

The key feature of the product is that torque transmission is performed independently of rotor support. Under the system, the shaft and gearbox do not support the hub, which is instead supported directly by a cast frame on two main bearings that divert weight and other loads to the main frame.

Because the gearbox has nothing to do with supporting the rotor, Alstom says it is protected from potentially damaging bending loads. All unwanted turbulence is diverted into the tower, it adds. Alstom says it has been tested on 500 wind turbines on 50 farms over five years.

Expansion plan

Alstom says its statistical analysis from the tests suggests that the gearboxes running Pure Torque will last the lifetime of the turbine, which is rare for gearboxes.

But Faubel admits: "This concept is not well known." He adds that Pure Torque ought to be revolutionary. "The whole thing is get away from this idea that a gearbox is a consumable," he says (see leader, last month). "Instead of having medicine, it's better not to get sick."

Faubel adds that the company is looking to new shores to expand its business. "We are looking at developing more outside Europe," he says. "The US is showing very strong growth."

Asked which governments have created the most benign environment for the wind business, Faubel says: "There's no doubt that the government of the US has been tremendous. The market for wind has surpassed even that of Germany. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Arra) and its clear commitment to renewables has been a success."

He rejects the notion, promoted by some US politicians, that investment by foreign renewables firms in the world's biggest economy represents a threat. "We are a foreign company but we are developing the US market locally," he says. "We intend to develop a plant in the state of Texas. To counter some of those voices, that plant will employ local people. Arra promotes the US and attracts investors from outside."

Faubel says he doesn't want to mention those governments that are on the "bad list". "But I can give you one that's on the good list: Brazil - there's good support for foreign investors coming in."

So which is more important: general government policy or a benign construction permissions system? "The answer is equally both," he says. "We don't think there is a silver bullet. But governments start by making commitments to renewables and they usually translate to specific policies. Government policies drive the market."

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