Lab helps engineers improve wind power

Oct 26, 2011
Iowa State engineers, left to right, John Jackman, Vinay Dayal and Frank Peters use the Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory to find better ways to make components for wind turbines. Credit: Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University

A laser in Iowa State University's Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory scanned layer after layer of the flexible fiberglass fabric used to make wind turbine blades.

A computer took the laser readings and calculated how dozens of the layers would fit and flow over the curves of a mold used to manufacture a blade. And if there was a wrinkle or wave in the fabric – any defect at all – the technology was designed to find it.

That's because the last thing you want is a defect in a 40-meter wind turbine blade when it's spinning in the wind.

"Waves in the fabric are bad because they can't take the load," said Vinay Dayal, an Iowa State associate professor of aerospace engineering.

"And if a blade can't take the load, bad things happen to the turbine," said John Jackman, an Iowa State associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

The two are working with Frank Peters and Matt Frank, associate professors of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, to operate and develop Iowa State's Manufacturing Lab.

The lab has been open for about a year and was built as part of a three-year, $6.3 million research project. The study is a joint effort of researchers from TPI Composites, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that operates a turbine blade factory in Newton, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. The researchers' goal is to develop new, low-cost manufacturing systems that could improve the productivity of turbine blade factories by as much as 35 percent.

The lab in Iowa State's Sweeney Hall provides researchers the facilities and equipment they need to:

  • study how lasers can analyze the fiberglass fabric that's used to manufacture turbine blades
  • develop technology for the nondestructive evaluation of turbine blades
  • analyze and improve wind blade edges
  • make precise 3-D laser measurements of 40-meter wind turbine blades
  • and develop new fabric manipulation techniques for automated blade construction.
Dayal said one example of the lab's capabilities is the ultrasound equipment that allows researchers to measure whether there's enough glue to hold the two halves of a turbine blade together – all without cutting into the blades.

The ultimate goal of the lab research is to make wind energy a more cost competitive energy option, Peters said. To make his point, he pulls out a U.S. Department of Energy bar graph that shows the 2010 cost of wind energy was 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour. The department's goal is to reduce the cost to 6 cents per kilowatt hour by 2020.

Peters said the lab can help meet that goal by developing better, more efficient manufacturing methods. The result could be bigger, longer-lasting . And that could mean more power at less cost.

"Manufacturing in this industry is done largely by hand," Peters said. "Our goal is to find ways to automate the manufacturing."

And that, said Dayal, also improves quality control in manufacturing plants.

Working with the four faculty researchers are Wade Johanns, Luke Schlangen, Huiyi Zhang and Siqi Zhu, graduate students in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering; and Sunil Chakrapani, a graduate student in aerospace engineering. Funding for the lab has been provided by TPI, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Iowa Office of Energy Independence. Other lab partners include the Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development and Iowa State's Center for Industrial Research and Service.

Researchers say the lab has already advanced their understanding of turbine manufacturing and is helping to develop automation technologies that could one day be used in manufacturing plants.

"In the early stages of the research there were a lot of investigations to understand all the problems we're addressing," Frank said. "But now we're at that phase where real intellectual property is coming out of the lab."

Explore further: Dismantling Germany's nuclear industry, piece by piece

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers build a tougher, lighter wind turbine blade

Aug 30, 2011

Efforts to build larger wind turbines able to capture more energy from the air are stymied by the weight of blades. A Case Western Reserve University researcher has built a prototype blade that is substantially lighter and ...

Noise research to combat 'wind turbine syndrome'

Jun 01, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Adelaide acoustics researchers are investigating the causes of wind turbine noise with the aim of making them quieter and solving 'wind turbine syndrome'.

Smart wind turbines can predict the wind

Jan 05, 2010

Risø DTU researchers have recently completed the world’s first successful test on a wind turbine with a laser-based anemometer built into the spinner in order to increase electricity generation.

Vertiwind: Floating wind turbine project launched

Feb 07, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Technip, a French-based oil and gas engineering company, and Nenuphar, a wind-power startup, announced that they will soon launch Vertiwind, a newly designed wind turbine.

Recommended for you

Turning bio-waste into hydrogen

Jul 29, 2014

Whilst hydrogen cars look set to be the next big thing in an increasingly carbon footprint-aware society, sustainable methods to produce hydrogen are still in their early stages. The HYTIME project is working on a novel production ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

windpro
not rated yet Oct 27, 2011
Too bad wind is already selling at or below 6 cents per kWh in multiple States.