$8 million award to aid in wind turbine research

Plans are underway for a 2.3 megawatt turbine at UMore Park.

Raghav Mehta

A recently finalized $8 million Department of Energy grant will help University of Minnesota researchers meet the DOEâÄôs goal of utilizing wind power for 20 percent of U.S energy needs by 2030. The award, funded through federal stimulus money, establishes a two-year University-led consortium aimed to bolster wind turbine research through field experiments, extended educational outreach and partnering with industry stalwarts. Fotis Sotiropoulos, principal investigator and director of St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, said he will be meeting with researchers and scientists to begin organizing and finalizing plans for the project Friday. Sotiropoulos said plans are underway for a 2.3 megawatt wind turbine at UMore Park, and the turbine will serve as a model for research rather than a power source. Although Sotiropoulos said the total cost of the turbine is yet to be determined, it will be funded by the DOE grant money. âÄúWe can make measurements, collect data and also implement solutions and test how they perform on the turbine,âÄù Sotiropoulos said. According to a 2009 Energy Boom article, Minnesota ranked fourth nationally in wind energy generation, providing the state with 1,803 megawatts each year. âÄúI canâÄôt imagine a better place to do this,âÄù Sotiropoulos said. The UniversityâÄôs Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment is sharing 20 percent of the funding for the project. IREE was also involved in building relationships with industrial partners in the state such as Lockheed Martin and 3M. Associate director Rod Larkins said IREE has high hopes for the project. âÄú[Wind energy] is a significant component of the stateâÄôs plan to achieve less dependency on outside sources of energy,âÄù Larkins said. The University of Maine and Illinois Institute of Technology received an equal amount of funding as well. A 2008 DOE report stated the U.S. wind industry could provide the country with 500,000 jobs, as well as an additional 100,000 jobs in associated industries that would include lawyers, accountants and electrical manufacturers. Because it is a clean energy source, wind power has the potential to displace substantial amounts of carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal and natural gas fuels. The DOE projects the 20 percent wind scenario could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 825 million metric tons. Grant recipients were selected by a DOE merit review panel who judged applications based on soundness of proposed research, strength of industrial partnersâÄô commitments and quality of the curriculum enhancement plan. Finalized in mid-February, the grant was originally announced last October. Larkins said that IREE also sees the consortium as an ideal opportunity to improve technology and turbine efficiency. Wind turbines, an emerging energy source, are attached to a generator that converts kinetic energy gathered from wind. While wind energy has continued to stand out as a promising alternative, like all other energy sources, it is fraught with problems. The consortium plans to address issues regarding turbine reliability, temperature control and radar interference, Sotiropoulos said. One of the key issues researchers will address is durability. When a turbine endures heavy winds, the impact can cause the blade to flatten and break. Turbines also risk being damaged if the wind blows at too high a velocity. Sotiropoulos said his team of researchers will be developing sophisticated technology that would help manufacturers design turbines that could withstand the harsh weather conditions. He also stressed the role companies like 3M and Lockheed Martin will have in the project. In cooperation with 3M, researchers will be working on technology that would help to de-ice turbine blades; in the winter, drastic drops in temperature can cause ice to build up. This buildup alters the aerodynamic shape of the blades, which reduces their effectiveness. The icing can also pose a safety hazard when chunks are thrown off the turbine as it is spinning at high speeds. Wind farms and turbines can also interfere with radar transmissions. Weather radar can misinterpret signals from the wind farms as a storm or turbulent weather. Faculty from the Institute of Technology will also be planning to develop graduate and undergraduate courses with the funding. Many of the courses would be through Web-based modules relating to wind energy. The introduction to wind energy courses would be taught jointly by researchers involved in the consortium and with guest lecturers. Sotriopoulos said the course would explore the âÄúsocio-economic integration of wind industryâÄù and âÄúgive a broader idea of the technical issuesâÄù within the wind energy industry.