‘Smart’ turbine wind energy project receives $1.6 million grant

April 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – A team of Purdue University researchers are making good use of a $1.6 million federal grant to improve the performance and reliability of “smart” wind turbines and wind farms.

The 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS) will be used to advance sensor technology and computer simulation tools for tracking the turbines.

Computer science professors Jan Vitek, Ananth Grama and Suresh Jagannathan, and mechanical engineering professor Douglas Adams said their goal is to increase the performance of wind turbines by reducing downtime, improving the predictability of maintenance and enhancing the safety in operational environments.

“Improvements in the productivity and longevity of wind energy, the fastest growing source of clean, renewable domestically produced energy, even by a few percentage points will have significant impact on the overall energy landscape and decision-making,” said Vitek, the project’s principal investigator.

Vitek continued, “Mitigating failures and enhancing safety will go a long way toward shaping popular perceptions of wind farms and accelerating broader acceptance within local communities.”

This project builds on research already conducted by Adams who is developing “smart” turbine blades to improve energy capture by adjusting for changing wind conditions.

Adams said no tools currently exist for tracking and analyzing the behavior of wind farms.

This project is slated to marry those two ideas.

“It’s like the adage: ‘If you measure it, then you can control it,’” said Adams.

A wind turbine’s major components include rotor blades, a gearbox and generator. The wind turbine blades are made primarily of fiberglass and balsa wood. Researchers are now strengthening them with carbon fiber.

While the blade is manufactured, engineers can then embed the sensors that will measure performance.

These sensors might also be helpful in the future for creating turbine blades that have “control surfaces” and simple flaps like those on an airplane’s wings to change aerodynamic characteristics of the blades for better control.

“We believe we can have a huge impact by essentially taking small steps to control how these wind turbines operate,” Adams said. “For example, a 2-degree error in the pitch of a single turbine blade can cause a 12% reduction in power.

Indiana jumped from no turbines to more than 1,100 in three years and now ranks as the third fastest-growing state for wind power in the country according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The association also places Indiana as 13th for the most installed wind power capacity in the country.

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