With the deleterious effects burning fossil fuels can have on the environment becoming ever more apparent, more and more industries and local and national authorities are turning to wind power to provide clean energy. There are many good reasons wind turbines have emerged as the renewable energy generator of choice, but one of the most important is their reliability; with an efficient and proactive maintenance routine in place, the average wind turbine can serve for decades with minimal mechanical problems.
However, wind turbines do suffer from mechanical failures from time to time, and gearbox failure is one of the most common causes of these failures. The gearboxes of even small, low-capacity wind turbines are put under tremendous stresses and can suffer from a range of problems, not all of which can be effectively predicted and prevented.
Consequently, keeping an eye out for the signs of wind turbine failure is a hugely important part of any successful wind power operation, and this involves keeping a close eye on the the supply of lubricant your turbine's gearbox uses to function effectively.
How can lubricant contamination damage a wind turbine's gearbox?
A turbine's gearbox needs prodigious amounts of lubricant to run properly and safely. These liquids actually perform two functions; beyond reducing friction between gears, bearings and other moving parts with their friction-reducing properties, turbine gearbox lubricants also have exemplary heat conductivity properties, allowing it to draw any excessive heat which is produced away from vital components.
Any amount of contamination with solid or liquid substances can dramatically undermine the lubricant's ability to perform these functions, potentially leading to catastrophic gearbox damage. Consequently, keeping a turbine's supply of gearbox lubricant as pure as possible is vitally important.
How can turbine gearbox lubricant become contaminated?
Contaminants found in gearbox lubricant supplies generally come in one of two forms; particulate matter and water.
Solid particulate matter can enter your turbine's lubricant supply in an number of ways. Flakes of rust from aging parts, metal shards shaved off new parts, grit, and sand blown on the wind and machining waste created by previous repairs can all find their way into your gearbox's lubricant supply. In many cases, these particles are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but that does not diminish the amount of damage they can cause.
If particulate contamination is allowed to remain in your lubricant supply during turbine operation, the particles can gouge minuscule sections of metal from the surfaces of the bearings and gears, a phenomenon known as micropitting. Though insignificant in isolation, thousands of these pits accumulating on a single component can cause severe structural weakening and dramatic increases in working friction, potentially leading to catastrophic gearbox failure.
The other primary contaminant of turbine gearbox lubricant is water, which generally finds its way into the lubricant supply through leaking fluid lines and aging or damaged turbine housings. Though water does not cause micropitting, it can dramatically curtail the lubricant's ability to draw heat away from moving parts and can lead to rapid overheating. This is because the water remains separate when trapped in the lubricant supply, forming bubbles of water around gearbox components that do not conduct heat nearly as well as the lubricant itself.
How can I solve problems with gearbox lubricant contamination?
If lubricant contamination has affected one or more of the turbines you oversee, bringing in wind turbine gearbox repair specialists should always be your first course of action. Ideally you should choose a service that deals primarily with your turbine's brand of gearbox. These professionals will bring the specialised equipment required to detect microscopic particles of contamination, and will be able to both replace the contaminated fluid and find and repair the entry points through which the contaminants entered the lubricant supply. Contact a local service for more info.