By Conor Wilkinson, EMEA Commercial Brand Manager, ExxonMobil Fuels & Lubricants
Energy security and sustainability are headline topics – soaring gas and electricity prices and growing concerns about climate change have guaranteed that. Part of the answer is an increased focus on wind power; as a result, it is significantly growing in importance as part of the UK and the world’s overall energy mix.
The UK government has committed to a major expansion of offshore capacity by 2030, raising the target from 40 GW to 50 GW, with 5 GW from floating offshore wind sources. Good progress is already being made. In July this year, the government approved 8 GW of offshore wind capacity – a major milestone for renewable energy and a significant step toward the UK meeting its net zero and energy security commitments.
All this activity is having an impact: the offshore wind industry is on the cusp of a major transformation, fueled by increased demand for clean energy, technological advances and improved efficiencies.
Keeping pace with industry trends
Given the scale and importance of the task, it is essential for the wind industry to unite around an agreed set of standards and practices, which is where Denmark-based APQP4Wind comes in. The non-profit organization was founded by world-leading wind turbine manufacturers and suppliers to help ensure that performance improvements keep pace with the downward trend in the levelized cost of energy (LOCE).
Advanced product quality planning (APQP) is a well known concept within the automotive industry and has been the backbone for improving quality performance for manufacturers and suppliers for decades. In the context of APQP4Wind, the idea of APQP has been adapted to deliver a standardized framework of procedures and techniques that fit the specific conditions of the wind industry. As a result, APQP4Wind has become an important seal of quality in the wind energy sector.
Optimizing turbine performance
Unlike other industries, wind turbine operators are well aware of the critical role played by lubricants in machine performance. To sustain maximum power output, it is critical to reduce unscheduled and costly downtime for maintenance and repairs. And to do this with ever more extreme temperature, load and water contamination conditions that are common in offshore installations.
That’s why the Mobil brand joined APQP4Wind; we support its championing of common quality standards across the industry and embrace its framework in our ongoing product and service development. Our close collaboration with the world’s leading OEMs helps us understand equipment trends and lubricant requirements, consult on lubrication system designs, and troubleshoot field lubrication challenges, expertise that we are sharing with APQP4Wind.
Mitigating bearing failures
For example, white etching cracking (WEC) is a common cause of bearing failure in the gearboxes of wind turbines. The condition, which gets its name from the appearance of the white fissures in the microstructure of steel, can result in critical parts failure. Given that the cost of repairing a wind turbine gearbox is expensive, compounded with the associated loss of productivity, it is little wonder why multiple investigations have been conducted to determine the cause of WEC.
To date, no definitive trigger has been established, although WEC is most likely the result of a complex interaction between mechanical, electrical, operational and chemical factors. This tribochemical reaction – the chemical changes that occur to a lubricant and a lubricated surface – is not well understood, so the Mobil team and a major bearing manufacturer set out to compare a range of lubricant formulations to a reference oil that has been reported to generate WEC in bearings.
The findings were then used to help formulate Mobil SHC Gear 320 WT, a synthetic gearbox oil that has been awarded a Conformity Statement by DNV GL, verifying that it does not contribute to the formation of WEC. It is also supplied with a 10-year warranty.
A new spin on wind turbine performance
The wind industry also requires long-lasting greases that protect against wear, rust and corrosion, even in extreme conditions. Formulations using a metallocene polyalphaolefin (mPAO) base stock have demonstrated superior low-temperature performance compared with greases made with mineral and cPAO base stocks in lab tests.
Checking a lubricant’s formulation and ensuring it is the most effective could help enhance the overall reliability and protect individual components. Operators should also ask for gearbox flush and fill guidance, as well as start-up and cleanliness advice from their lubricant supplier. Used in combination with dedicated wind turbine oils and greases, these can help wind farm operators achieve superior equipment protection and long service intervals, generating safety, environmental and operating cost benefits.
The wind industry is set for growth. To maximize the opportunities this will bring, operators need to observe optimum maintenance standards to help safeguard uptime. Best practice standards, in combination with advanced lubricant solutions, can help turbine operators enhance operations and deliver the renewable energy we all need.
Conor Wilkinson is the EAME Commercial Brand Manager at ExxonMobil, responsible for a range of Mobil solutions for the commercial sector. Conor has extensive experience in Brand Marketing, Strategic Planning, Technical Solutions & Sales Management and was formerly the Europe Energy Sales Manager with a customer base across conventional, renewable, and decentralized power generation. Conor began his career in 2009 as a field engineer in the UK, providing technical services to customers in the energy and manufacturing sectors. He is a native of Ireland and graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a Masters of Chemical Engineering.
Filed Under: Featured, Lubricants