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Wind turbines of the Future, Purdue Researchers Leading

May 28, 2009


Purdue engineers and Sandia National Laboratory are producing a "smarter" wind turbine structure that reacts better to changing conditions to better transfer energy from the wind to the turbine blades, and from the turbine blades into the electrical grid.

"There needs to be a way to try to sense what the blade is doing in terms of the wind as it acts on the blade. How is it deflecting? What are the forces that are transmitted through the blade to the hub?" said Adams.

Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Doug Adams said right now there's no real way to measure those forces, which can hurt reliability.

"If you can identify when the wind fluctuates you can do better maintenance on the turbines, because that fluctuation is what drives reliability problems in the gear boxes," said Adams.

Adams said the measurements collected will also help capture wind energy.

"You can optimize energy capture for low winds to high wind conditions," said Adams.

To measure those forces, engineers embedded 12 sensors inside a wind turbine blade as it was being built. Purdue Doctoral Student Jonathon White is leading the research with Adams. He said testing has now begun on this wind turbine located in Bushland, Texas.

With the United States being the world's largest harvester of wind power, White says he hopes the new "smart" turbines will pop up all over the country.

White said the team has more questions to pursue even after they are satisfied with the new the new turbine.

"How can we retrofit turbines that already exist? There are many more turbines that are going to be installed or are currently installed, but still you'd like the ability to go back into the turbines that are already in there and go back and retrofit with the new technology," said White.

The research is ongoing, but White said a patent is currently pending for the smart turbine blades. With the information already collected during the past year, White said the smart blades may be available for commercial use within six months.


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