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American Offshore Energy Has a New Way to Float Wind Turbines

  • Nov 15, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 15, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- American Offshore Energy (AOE) announces novel patents in the floating wind turbine industry. The AOE VAWT design, the "American Turbine", is the first wind turbine that has no center shaft, the bearings and electrical generation move to the perimeter where there are high surface speeds even at low RPMs, eliminating the need for rolling bearings, gearboxes and oil. Maybe more importantly, the team at AOE used clever design principles to completely avoid moment forces being transmitted to the floating base; this means the floats may be made from fiberglass, saving thousands of tons of steel. Then, being sailboat racers themselves, they took a page from Americas Cup Sailboat Racing to build a lightweight but powerful aerodynamic rotor that may be "trimmed" to conditions.

The big idea is that to make a floating wind turbine, it makes more sense to reach up into the wind with a lightweight structure, like a cross between sailboat masts and bicycle wheels, keeping the heavier bearings and generator near sea level. Turbines that have been successful on land are being put on floating structures only because they are the dominant wind turbine technology, not because someone thought rationally about how best to make a floating wind turbine. This creates a huge opportunity. The key technologies enabling the opportunity are water-based hydrostatic perimeter support bearings, direct drive HVDC generation at the perimeter and tension and compression design principles. 

The elegance of the AOE design leads to its sustainability advantages. Because of the fluid film bearing technology, axial and radial loads are separated; this means that the axial bearings, carrying the weight of the rotating assembly, may push down or pull up on a float, but cannot introduce a moment load. Because the floats are loaded in only tension or compression, they may be made from fiberglass at a tenth of the weight per MW of the oil derrick-like floats required for HAWT designs. HAWT have the loads and masses at the top of a long pole, they are cantilevered, so a 50-ton force at the top of a 100-meter tower puts more than 500 tons of force into a floating base that is holding the bottom 10 meters. This is why they require so much steel. The AOE design avoids this.

The AOE design has no need for forgings, castings, rolling element bearings, gearboxes, conventional generators, or AC/DC conversions at sea. Being so much lighter, they may be manufactured and launched from sites not appropriate for launching floating HAWTs, and so are not competitive in regard to coastal real estate either. The fact that they may be towed and serviced by existing Jones Act-compliant vessels sidesteps another logistical supply chain problem. The AOE turbine is constructed of fabricated steel and fiberglass structures, both active industries here in the USA that could easily scale up. Drew Devitt, CTO of AOE notes, "Being completely American-made, we will avoid having to wait to buy European-made nacelles; that is another reason we may be able to deploy faster and less expensively." He goes on: "We are not competing with HAWT; we really offer a completely different 'Iron in the Fire' with regard to deploying utility-scale floating wind turbines."

What distinguishes AOE from other VAWT offerings? Devitt says, "It goes back to our 'No Shaft' design. All the other VAWT offerings employ a center shaft. The center shaft VAWT have an advantage over HAWTs in regard to floating, by having the mass of the bearings, gearbox and generator at or below sea level. But they still are on the wrong end of 10 to 1 leverage, and in their case, this force is transmitted through rolling element bearings. And still, they need a gearbox, as generating power at 10rpm would require a huge generator. The cost, the shafted VAWTs will pay, that shafted HAWT guys do not have, will be trying to keep saltwater out of oil-lubricated turbine bearings, gearbox and generator that is at or below sea level."

In the AOE design, there are no rolling bearings or gearboxes and so no oil, the turbines may be sunk in the face of a hurricane, allowing the turbines to ride out the storm just below the ocean surface. This dramatically reduces risk, and so the cost for financing and insurance. The turbines can be raised after the storm by remotely releasing compressed air cylinders in the fiberglass floats. General maintenance at sea is facilitated as the bearings and generator components are at deck level for service boats and because the turbines are arranged in a mooring field, they may be unplugged and towed back to port in a day by existing Jones Act-compliant tugs for maintenance if necessary. The large surface area of the vertical wings is obvious to birds and gives strong horizontal radar reflection for maritime navigation, with no vertical reflection for aero navigation.

We ask Devitt, out of all the advantages, what do you think is the most significant? "I think speed to deployment is the key. Steel and fiberglass fabrication have relatively low capital requirements. Combine that with low real estate costs, near the proposed wind farms, and you have a recipe for franchising manufacturing. Once the facility and tooling to make the turbines have been developed, they can be duplicated, and other manufacturing sites could pop up quickly near deployment sites. This would be a great way to help us meet our renewable energy targets and put Americans to work quickly."

Contact Information:

Drew Devitt



Related Files

A Wind Plan R5.docx


Related Images

Image 1: The American Wind Turbine

A floating wind turbine, reaching into the wind with a lightweight structure, based on America's Cup sailing tech, keeping the heavier bearings and generator near sea level, American Offshore Energy side steps logistical problems with floating HAWT.


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The American Wind Turbine


The American Wind Turbine

Source: American Offshore Energy

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Nov 16, 2022

Wow! Devitt lays out a plan that really makes technical and economic sense. The only reservation I initially had was that the vertical airfoils would not be reaching high enough into the air to tap the best winds. But I went on to read Devitt's white paper, and promptly learned two things that I didn't know. And that I didn't know I didn't know. One is the fact that the gradient of wind speed with altitude is much lower over the ocean 30 miles offshore than it is over land. The other is the very understandable reason for that: the absence over the sea of turbulence-inducing thermal convection cells over land from daily heating and cooling of the land surface. So one doesn't need super-high towers to reach high quality wind.

This really does sound like a practical system with huge potential for rapid growth.

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