Urban Lundin – Exploring the Future of Magnetic Bearings

How do you develop and construct magnetic bearings that can offload turbines in nuclear- and waterpower with up to several hundred tons? And how do you go from idea to production of this kind of complex industrial products? These questions are in the mind of researcher Urban Lundin at Uppsala University.

With a background in Physics Urban has always had an interest in electricity. However it was not until after his post-doc studies at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, as the energy sector appeared as an interesting career opportunity. In the choice between ABB and Uppsala University the prominent university in his hometown became the final choice.

Prototyp magnetic bearings

Prototyp magnetic bearings

– Magnetic bearings can be used in turbines in both nuclear- and waterpower. There are large masses that need to be controlled somehow and there are losses that can be reduced and vibrational problems to handle. The vibrations in the turbine also create problems with high mechanical wear on the equipment. As a consequence different components have to be regularly renovated or replaced and a worst case scenario is that the turbine breaks down completely. This is a huge cost for utility industry, but magnetic bearings can increase the control of these harmful vibrations, says Urban.

In addition to a more secure operation and a longer lifespan there are also other advantages. The operation areas can be expanded to previously restricted areas which mean that you can increase the operational range. Another advantage is that it will be possible to replace todays dominating lubricant oil with more environmentally friendly lubricants. Organic lubricants have inferior lubricating properties but the use of magnetic bearings can compensate for this. However the ultimate goal is to be able to use water instead.

Today Urban works with a prototype that is partly financed by KIC InnoEnergy. This prototype has a 50 centimetre circumference with an offload capability of approximately 5 tons. The plan is to upscale this prototype to a model with an offload capacity of 50-60 tons that hopefully will be installed at Vattenfall´s test site in Porjus in northern Sweden in 2014 or 2015. This test site has been created in order to test different innovation projects before they are transferred to industrial production. After testing in Porjus there will be another upscaling to an industrial model with offload capacity adapted to existing power productions units.

– The advantage of the KIC InnoEnergy financing is that we can do things that are not really research but needed in order to develop the prototype. This is for example mechanical design in CAD or mechanical calculations. I find this very valuable. Another advantage is that smaller companies with difficulties of financing the development themselves can get contributions for this. The machinery to manufacture a magnetic bearing is obviously a big investment, says Urban.

An important basis for the continued cooperation in KIC InnoEnergy is a mutual understanding of the different working methods in academy and industry as well as the ability to take advantage of each other’s strengths.

– I believe that something we have to work even more with in KIC InnoEnergy is matching the research and development projects of academy and industry. Academy is really good at research but our industrial partners have a better ability to assess future market value of a product or service, says Urban.