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The evolution of wind turbines – Balancing size and efficiency with next-generation gearbox bearings

The quest for renewable energy has led to significant advancements in wind turbine technology. A key trend in this sector is the development of larger turbines, driven by the need to capture more wind energy and generate more electricity. This growth, however, presents unique challenges, particularly in maintaining the efficiency and compactness of essential components like gearbox bearings.

The rationale for larger wind turbines is straightforward; a  allows for the harnessing of more wind energy, directly leading to increased electricity generation and lower cost of energy. This is crucial in meeting the global demand for renewable energy, as larger turbines contribute more significantly to the global energy grid and help reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

As larger turbines are produced, the demands on their components intensify. They must withstand greater loads, higher speeds, and a broad range of environmental conditions. This requires innovation in drivetrain design enabling augmentation of the gearbox torque density. Such innovation is essential for limiting the weight and size of components, particularly for transportation purposes.

In response to these challenges, all components, including roller bearings, must be downsized without sacrificing performance. Modern wind turbine gearboxes now feature multiple planetary gear stages. By increasing the number of planet gears, torque is distributed over more gear contacts, allowing for a reduction in the diameter of the planet and ring gears. This has led to a noticeable decrease in gearbox size but also limited the space available for bearings. This is where SKF DuraPro bearings for wind turbine gearboxes come into play.

SKF DuraPro for wind turbine gearboxes are specifically engineered to last longer and effectively address the challenges of large wind turbines. These bearings undergo a specialized thermochemical heat treatment that enhances their strength at both the surface and subsurface levels. As a result, they become more robust against common failures like white etching cracks, micropitting, or wear. Extensive full-scale bearing tests have demonstrated significant life extensions under conditions of both full-film and low lubrication.

Advantages of SKF DuraPro for wind turbine gearboxes

  • Increased bearing life: can last up to five times longer, depending on operating conditions
  • Reduced size: bearing and potentially gear diameter decreased by 25%
  • Enhanced durability: leads to reduced downtime and minimized operational and maintenance expenses
  • Improved design: based on in-field gearbox bearings, incorporating all SKF Explorer design elements

Ultimately, the advanced engineering and durability of bearings like SKF DuraPro for wind turbine gearboxes are crucial in enhancing the capabilities and sustainability of wind energy technologies, ensuring wind power remains a competitive and reliable renewable energy source.

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