GE unveils experimental ecoROTR wind turbine

June 9, 2015 by Tomas Kellner, General Electric
GE unveils experimental ecoROTR wind turbine
Credit: Chris New/GE Reports

The hillsides around Tehachapi, a brown and blustery town on the edge of California's Mojave Desert, are bristling with a forest of wind turbines of all makes and sizes.

But the tallest and strangest one stands down in the valley. It rises 450 feet from base to blade tips – almost half the height the Eiffel Tower – and has a large spinning silver aluminum dome bolted to its rotor. "It almost looks as if an UFO got stuck on the face," says Mike Bowman, the leader of sustainable energy projects at GE Global Research. "But the dome could be the future of ."

GE calls the the ecoROTR and the company started testing it here last month. If the experiments confirm , the 20,000-pound dome could lead to larger and more efficient turbines for windy locations that are currently too hard to reach for the industry. "As far as I know, there's nothing like this in the world," Bowman says. "This could be a game changer."

The project is part of GE's decade-long ecomagination initiative, focused on building machines with lower environmental impact that save customers money. Specifically, it will tackle two problems with : first, they "waste" too much wind and aren't as efficient as they could be. Second, the blades and towers are so big and heavy, they're hard to transport to the remote places where the wind is best.

Styrofoam and toothpicks

The project started with a Styrofoam ball and a toothpick two years ago, when Mark Little, who runs GE Global Research, challenged his scientists to build a rotor that could harvest more wind. "He told the team to look for unexpected answers," Bowman says. "You can't just stretch out the blades. They are already too long and too difficult to ship."

When the team came back, they proposed to give the turbine a big flat nose. "The design looked really strange, but it made a lot of sense," Bowman says. "When wind hits the center of the wind turbine where the blades are attached, it's wasted. That's because the blades are basically levers and the same wind generates more force further from the hub."

GE unveils experimental ecoROTR wind turbine
Credit: Chris New/GE Reports

Bowman's team thought that if they deflected the wasted wind from the hub, the blade tips could harvest its power. The nose could also allow them to build bigger rotors without lengthening the blades, since they could attach them to its perimeter.

The group decided to test the idea in a at GE's lab in upstate New York. They sliced a small Styrofoam ball in half and attached it to the front of a small wind turbine model with a toothpick and glue. The team, which included engineers trained in computational flow dynamics, materials scientists, software engineers and other specialists, then ran multiple wind and smoke simulations inside the tunnel.

"When we crunched the numbers, we saw up to a 3 percent increase in performance," Bowman says. "It doesn't seem like much, but it's potentially a lot when you apply the savings across an entire wind farm with dozens of turbines."

From a scale model to 300-foot tower

The next step was to design a life-like ten-foot version of the turbine, which they took to the University of Stuttgart in Germany for more hard-core testing. The team arrived with several different designs and measured their performance, loading and other parameters. The tests gave them clues into what the final product could look like and how it would perform.

Back in the U.S., they used the test results to further validate the design of the full-scale version of the ecoROTR, which is now spinning in Tehachapi.

GE unveils experimental ecoROTR wind turbine
Credit: Chris New/GE Reports

The team attached the experimental dome, which is 60 feet in diameter, to a 1.7-megawatt wind turbine, one of GE's most powerful machines, sitting on top of a 300-foot tower. Like the dome, the tower is also a prototype. Instead of traditional steel tubes, its "space-frame" design uses metal latticework wrapped in a polyester weave coat. The girders can be loaded inside shipping containers and onto ordinary trucks, and bolted together in places that were previously hard to reach.

The view from the top

Bowman has the lean and muscular build of an ultra-marathoner who can handle a 50-kilometer race through New York's Adirondacks wilderness, and he brings the same kind of stamina to his work. Last week, he put on a safety harness and climbed a 300-foot ladder to the top of the turbine for the first time (see below). He inspected the dome and checked large silver Band-Aid-like patches covering a myriad of sensors measuring everything from torque to stress.

GE unveils experimental ecoROTR wind turbine
Credit: Chris New/GE Reports

The sensors are everywhere, starting on the tower legs at the ground level, up to the turbine's spinning shaft. The team regularly pores over the data, looking for signs that the experiment is working or needs to be tweaked. This phase of the project will last another four months.

"This is the pinnacle of wind power," Bowman says." I get the feeling ecoROTR and the space-frame tower could be the perfect couple."

GE unveils experimental ecoROTR wind turbine
Credit: Chris New/GE Reports

Explore further: Engineers study the benefits of adding a second, smaller rotor to wind turbines

Related Stories

GE has surgical technique to power up wind blades

May 27, 2014

Wind turbines continue to draw interest as a promising renewable energy source. Engineers are still addressing challenges, nonetheless, over how to ensure wind power becomes a more viable energy source making economic as ...

Vortex Bladeless aims for lower-cost wind energy approach

May 18, 2015

A technology leap forward in wind energy? Or, as the company in charge calls it, a "new paradigm" of wind power, lowering costs, requiring no training, using fewer supplies? They believe they have a great idea and they aim ...

Dutch company launches new-generation urban wind turbines

May 28, 2014

Could a new generation of wind turbines on residential rooftops be on the way? Saying no might be easy when imagining blade noise, if nothing else. The idea of wind turbines for generating energy in households may draw several ...

Recommended for you

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

19 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lischyn
2 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2015
3% efficiency increase,,, barely noteworthy. Also, written that the blades are attached to the disk, but the side view picture barely shows any attachement. This looks like a regular blade set-up with a disk stuck onto it. How is it much lighter so it can be transported to remote areas. This whole thing looks like hogwash
gkam
3 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2015
It is a test version, with only the added cone on a standard turbine.

What have you done?
Lischyn
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 09, 2015
It is a test version, with only the added cone on a standard turbine.

What have you done?


Designed internet/fiber equipment so you can post your comments here.

What have you done?
shavera
5 / 5 (3) Jun 09, 2015
Lischyn, I think the point being, that if GE didn't think it was economical to install, they wouldn't install it. They're engineers and such whose focus is on producing efficiency, working for a private industry whose focus is on maximizing profit. Writing it off as "barely noteworthy" without being an expert in the field is a little haughty.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.1 / 5 (7) Jun 09, 2015
It is a test version, with only the added cone on a standard turbine.

What have you done?


Designed internet/fiber equipment so you can post your comments here.

What have you done?
Gkam is a deranged little fellow who thinks that filling out validation forms and delivering slide shows prepared by real engineers, makes one an engineer.

Hes not smart enough to realize how ridiculous this is.

He also doesnt know what BTUs or calories are, or kWh for that matter, which kind of proves the point.

Re the article, youd think that an inflatable dome might be lighter and cheaper than that geodesic?
PPihkala
5 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2015
Re the article, youd think that an inflatable dome might be lighter and cheaper than that geodesic?

Might be, but probably the used construction is more stable, ie less probable to break under adverse conditions, like storm winds and hail showers.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2015
"Designed internet/fiber equipment so you can post your comments here.
What have you done?"
----------------------------------

Do you really want a list? In this field, I was a Senior Engineer in Technical Services for what was then the largest non-governmental power company on Earth. I dealt with problems of integration of technologies into the existing grid.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (6) Jun 10, 2015
"Designed internet/fiber equipment so you can post your comments here.
What have you done?"
----------------------------------

Do you really want a list? In this field, I was a Senior Engineer in Technical Services for what was then the largest non-governmental power company on Earth. I dealt with problems of integration of technologies into the existing grid.
-And yet you dont know the difference between BTUs and calories.

And so we must regard all claims of knowledge and insight from you as worthless.

Youve amply proven this by consistently posting rubbish which is easy to disprove.

Youve referred to at least a dozen different positions on your CV. We can only assume that the compulsion to spout bullshit has been a lifelong affliction of yours.
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 10, 2015
I wonder what the credibility is of some of the posters here. What is their experience in this field? Why should anyone believe them? What are their motivations for their posts?

Often, their comments reveal more about the commentor than the contents of the bleatings.

You are still on Ignore, otto. I see your blank posts, but do not read your silly adolescent stuff any more.

But feel free to display your character to all.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (6) Jun 11, 2015
I wonder what the credibility is of some of the posters here. What is their experience in this field? Why should anyone believe them? What are their motivations for their posts?
Well lets see, you claim to know that dried manure is a major component of CA air pollution, that fallout is the MAIN cause of lung cancer, that you can predict earthquakes because youve weathered a few, and that you know something about Musk's powerwall because you 'were in the field'.

A few excerpts from a long, long list.

You pretend you didnt say them, or you offer lame defenses, or you simply ignore them.

This is a very strong indication of insanity george.

I dont like insane people. And I dont like LIARS and BULLSHIT ARTISTS posting here.

Isnt that motivation enough?
You are still on Ignore, otto
-See? Youre a LIAR. You read everything I post because youre a compulsive neurotic.
fmfbrestel
3 / 5 (2) Jun 13, 2015
3%? that is hardly noteworthy. Especially since the 3% is the high end of a range of measured benefits. If we want to just measure the most optimistic figures, sticking a small secondary rotor in the middle can generate up to 18% more power.

Look: one of the recommended related articles is a detailed study about secondary rotors.
http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv
Eikka
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 14, 2015
I wonder what the credibility is of some of the posters here. What is their experience in this field? Why should anyone believe them?


Because they can prove their points when requested - something which you have never managed. You appear to believe that the best evidence is anecdotal evidence - especially your own. Not so much other's.

I think the point being, that if GE didn't think it was economical to install, they wouldn't install it.


They're testing it. Time will tell.

It's a tight margin to add that sort of a thing and not add more than 3% cost to the whole turbine, especially when you have to take into account the increased drag and off-center forces that put higher stresses on the structures, leading to higher maintenance costs or earlier retirement.

gkam
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 14, 2015
"Because they can prove their points when requested - something which you have never managed. "
---------------------------------

Such as kW/hr?
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 14, 2015
"Because they can prove their points when requested - something which you have never managed. "
---------------------------------

Such as kW/hr?


Yes.

You first claimed that no such thing exists, on a completely nonsensical argument that "kW" already has time in it, essentially claiming that a rate of a rate doesn't exist as a concept.

Then when I pointed out that it does exist, by elementary calculus, you claimed that the concept of power over time, or "ramp rate" as it's called, isn't used in the power industry, which you claim to be a professional in.

Then you refused to aknowledge it when I showed you the documents where the term "ramp rate" was defined for use in the power industry, the unit given as MW/min which is the same thing as kW/hr.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 14, 2015
Such as kW/hr?


Or the Pelton wheel turbine discussion, where you continued to claim superior knowledge and arguing against how the thing works despite numerous references to descriptions to the contrary.

Or the air conditioning discussion where you claimed that domestic swimming pools are/were used as heat batteries, despite being shown that the heat escapes well before it becomes useful. You also claimed to have been involved with the technology, which is obviously BS because it doesn't work.

Or the numerous nuclear power discussions where you pop up to shout that nobody knows how to dispose of the waste, despite being shown otherwise every single time.

And that's just off the top of my head. You're just throwing bullshit and backing it up with your job titles and "what have you done?".

You then run around throwing one-liners and parroting popular opinions to keep your ratings up, because you're afraid your comments would otherwise be filtered out as trash.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 14, 2015
Writing it off as "barely noteworthy" without being an expert in the field is a little haughty.


It's a gimmick in an industry where you need 300% improvement, particularily in the cost department, rather than 3%. Wind power isn't the kind of mature technology where you should be spending effort in fine optimization, rather than trying to get the fundamental technology down in cost to be economical.

That's why it's barely noteworthy.
gkam
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 14, 2015
Go to any large powerplant and ask what it is worth to get another 3% out of their generation,

Do it.

Shootist
1 / 5 (4) Jun 14, 2015
Part time power for part time people.
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Jun 14, 2015
Like your 400kw/hr fuel cell?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.