Monday, 25 February 2013

Rare Earth is indispensable for renewable energy, lets support Lynas Gebeng

wind turbines renewable energy

Wind turbines have always fascinated me,  I was travelling in France during my holidays early this year when I had a real look at these monster machines on the French Countryside, it was a fascinating sight. Actually seeing the renewable energy of the wind to be transformed into electricity on a large commercial scale is such an amazing experience.

What is a wind turbine?

A wind turbine is a machine that transforms the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical or electrical energy. Wind turbines consist of a foundation, a tower, a nacelle and a rotor. The foundation prevents the turbine from falling over. The tower holds up the rotor and a nacelle (or box).
The nacelle contains large primary components such as the main axle, gearbox, generator, transformer and control system. The rotor is made of the blades and the hub, which holds them in position as they turn. Most commercial wind turbines have three rotor blades. The length of the blades can be more than 60 metres. Source here.
Source: here
Unlike a fan which turns when electricity is supplied to its motor,  a wind turbine turns with the wind which in turn turns the magnet in the generators, a motion which generates elctricity. In order for the wind turbines to be effective and comparatively small, the motor generators must be made using super magnets produced from rare earth metals.

Here in Malaysia we do not have wind speeds as high and as constant in countries like the UK, France, Germany or even Italy. Surprisingly for me at least, Malaysia do have a few wind turbines actually at Pulau Redang and Pulau Banggi, Sabah...I found some  interesting paper on wind turbines by Malaysians if you are interested to know:

1. Possibility of electricity from wind energy in Malaysia: Some rough calculations - Christopher Teh Boon Sung.
2. Feasibility Study on Development of a Wind Turbine Energy Generation System for Community Requirements of Pulau Bangi Sabah - Azhar Abdul Aziz

Such are the wonders of renewable wind energy which can be harvested by wind turbines but the effectiveness of these machines can only be realised by using supermagnets manufactured using rare earth metals:

Rare earths indispensable in wind power output

GLOBAL DEMAND: Unless those objecting come to their senses soon, opportunities in Malaysia may be squandered 

IN the global search for renewable energy, wind power stands out as one viable option. This is especially true for countries where wind speeds are reasonably high. Unfortunately, not many places in Malaysia offer such high speed winds on a continuous basis. Sabah has been identified as one of the few areas which enjoy reasonably high wind speed. Notwithstanding that, scientists are actively researching to reduce the speed threshold for wind power. They say this would be possible if the weight of the wind turbine can be reduced and the power of the electromagnet increased substantially.

Germany has laid down very ambitious goals for wind energy. By 2030, the country plans to have offshore wind farms boasting a total installed output of 20 to 25 gigawatts. In order to meet this target, very large wind turbines with outputs of up to 20 megawatts will have to be erected on the high seas. At the moment, typical generators have only produced up to five megawatts. Scientists at the Fraunhofer institutes in Germany are working hard to meet such ambitious targets.

In the 1990s, the benchmark was 250-kilowatt turbines on 30 metre towers. Now there are already in place two-megawatt turbines mounted on 100-metre towers. And in off-shore towers, a rated output of five megawatts is now the norm. In a recently concluded European project, researchers agree that 20 MW wind generators are a realistic prospect. In fact, there is a good chance that the first of such very large generators will become reality by 2020. But it is important that such huge rotor blades are capable of withstanding the operational stresses to which they will subjected to at sea.

There is a reason why wind turbines are growing steadily in size to produce more output. Many governments are looking to renewable energy in order to cut their CO2 emissions, as well as reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. In the EU, the aim is to have around 20 per cent of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. And offshore wind power will contribute significantly. According to the European Wind Energy Association, the EU will have the capacity to generate 200 gigawatts of power off the coasts of Europe by 2030.

Almost all turbine manufacturers would go for compact and lightweight constructions. The fact is that lean turbine design has a significant impact on the entire structure. The foundations and tower can be lighter because they have to support less weight. This makes it easier to erect the installation as a whole. The rotor blades on the new generation of turbines must be able to withstand significant stresses. This is where new carbon fibre materials become indispensable. The only problem is that such materials are still costly to manufacture and fabricate. Researchers are working hard to reduce the costs for such materials.
Weight reduction is only half the story if the ambitious targets of the EU are to be realised.
The next challenge for scientists is to develop superpowerful electro-magnets to do the conversion to electrical energy. Judging by the developments in high powered magnets thus far, the incorporation of rare earth elements proves critical. The dilemma for the magnet manufacturers is the erratic supply of rare earth elements in the market. One reason for this is that there are not many suppliers of rare earths. In fact currently, China control almost 95 per cent of the world supply. And the export from China is closely controlled through quotas. China wants to develop its own capacity for the production of super magnets. Manufacturers of such magnets outside China have been crying for certainty in supply. Yet demand is set to rise.

This is the reason why they look forward to the supply from Lynas in Malaysia. But Lynas has been bogged down by groups objecting to the business of producing rare earths in Malaysia, despite repeated assurances from experts that rare earth elements are safe to produce. It is clear that the rare earths industry present a new opportunity for Malaysia to tap on the expanding global demand for the materials. Unless those objecting come to their senses soon, such opportunity may be squandered.

Read in the NST here.

The groups objecting to the Lynas Gebeng project are in the minority and are lead by the Malaysian Opposition and they oppose because it is a BN Federal Gomen project, their opposition has no scientific basis. I think the Lynas Gebeng plant under the supervision of Malaysian  Scientific Agencies will go ahead as planned and in doing so will contribute to propel Malaysia economically forward faster towards the goal of Wawasan 2020.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those who were objecting vehemently were;
- The politico rabble rouser.
- The frustrated who cannot dig their hands into yhe pie, and
- The idiot who think with the brain not in the kneecap but the foot!