Power plant

Power Generation Bearings

by Kevin Sweeney
28 February, 2023
8 min read

Power Generation Bearings are the specific types of bearings used in applications which produce electric  power. Magnetic, hydrodynamic and rolling bearings are the three basic types of thrust bearings applied in power generation machinery. Typical rolling element thrust  bearings are specified in smaller generators and wind turbines. The use of magnetic bearings are used in special applications such as the SKF magnetic bearings used in a heat and power generation plant.  

Bearing applications

SKF magnetic bearings are found in light and heavy rotating machines like water turbines, turbo gensets, and microturbines.

Hydrodynamic bearings are generally in use in almost all power generation whether it be through gas or steam generators and or water turbines. A water turbine has a rotary motion and converts kinetic energy into mechanical work.  Initially water turbines were widely used for industrial power before electrical grids but are still used for electric power generation today. It is common to see water turbines used in Dams to generate power

SKF magnetic bearings operate with no surface contact and are essentially frictionless. Magnetic bearings are free from wear as compared to typical rolling bearings. Using electromagnets cause forces that are generated for both radial and axial movements and are used to levitate the shaft. In applications utilizing Magnetic bearings a control system is employed for maintaining the electric current in the electromagnets for shaft positioning.

Benefits to using Magnetic bearings

Benefits to using Magnetic bearings over rolling bearings  are better reliability and zero maintenance. Magnetic bearings do not require oil and have no maintenance . Magnetic bearings can operate in a vacuum environment and in process gas applications.


Bearing Companies like SKF offer over 130,000 magnetic bearings and high speed electric motor references in numerous countries. SKF Magnetic bearings are highly specified in applications where low vibration and high speeds are required.

Hydrodynamic fluid film bearings and magnetic bearings systems are found in many applications including  fossil-fuel and nuclear applications. Other applications include reactor coolant pumps, boiler feedwater pumps, nuclear ancillary blowers,combustion turbines, steam turbines, and turbo-generators. In use for these applications are electromagnetic Journal bearings with custom tilt pad and fixed profiles. Pacific International Bearing can provide expert application help for any custom designs. Proper design of features ensures the electromagnetic journal bearings transfer radial loads with very little  power loss and optimize dynamic operation.

Electromagnetic  fixed profile thrust bearings are used for lightly loaded applications. Tilt pad designs with advanced tilting pad solutions are for more difficult operating conditions especially with axial vibration.

Some manufacturers offer Electromagnetic bearings offer Polymer Bearing Surfaces

High-performance polymer materials, combined with an optimized bearing design, can allow continuous operation under high loads and temperatures, low-viscosity fluids and adverse conditions. Polymer materials have operating temperature capabilities of up to 250°C (482°F), compared to 130°C (266°F) for babbitt.

Waukesha video on how magnetic bearings operate.

Contact us for further discussion and assistance for magnetic bearings.

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Written by

Kevin Sweeney

Founder and CEO at Pacific International Bearing Sales Inc (PIB)
Education: BS Business and Economics California State University Hayward Ca
CBS (Certified Bearing Specialist)

My role with Pacific International Bearings (PIB) is currently CEO. Since 1976, I have been deeply involved in the bearing industry, working in manufacturing sales at NTN Bearing and subsequently in Bearing Distribution. Before establishing PIB in 1990, I gathered valuable experience in bearing manufacturing and distribution. The last 45 + years in the bearing industry have been both rewarding and challenging, assisting customers across a large number of diverse bearing applications.
Outside of the bearing industry, my interests are family, woodworking, motorcycling, cars, gardening, and golf.
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