Smart Wind Turbines Get $1.6M US Grant

A Purdue University research team has been granted $1.6 million in federal funding to help develop the next generation of wind turbines, so-called “smart” turbines that will operate more efficiently and break down less often that today’s versions.

The researchers will use the money to fund advance sensor technology and computer simulation tools for tracking and improving the performance and reliability of the turbines.

windturbine

image via Southwest Wind

The research team, which was handed the grant by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Computer and Network Systems, is building on the work of mechanical engineering professor Douglas Adams, who has been developing smart turbine blades for a number of years.

Adams uses sensors and computer software to sense differing wind conditions so that the blades can adjust to ensure they capture the maximum amount of wind energy available.

In a statement, the Purdue team said its goal was to “increase the performance of wind turbines by reducing downtime, improving the predictability of maintenance and enhancing the safety in operational environments.”

This last aim could be achieved by installing sensor data which could adjust the pitch of the blade and the rotor yaw so that the turbine does not get damaged in high winds. The wind turbine blades are made primarily of fiberglass and balsa wood, and although researchers now are strengthening them with carbon fiber, they still vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. Sensors, embedded into the blades during manufacture, combined with “estimator model” software reveals how much force is being pressed on the blades.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.