Selig plays role in designing enormous blades for offshore energy
Aerospace Engineering at Illinois Prof. Michael Selig, an expert in wind turbine airfoil and blade design, is playing a pivotal role in one of the most ambitious wind energy projects ever attempted.
Selig’s knowledge will be put to task in helping design gigantic blades, each stretching longer than two football fields, to be used in construction of offshore 50-megawatt wind turbines that would power the United States and other countries. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program is funding the $3.56 million extreme-scale Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR) research.
The 200-meter-long blades will be used in a new design approach to traditional wind turbine structures. Conventional turbines are configured with the rotor blades upwind of the tower. The new exascale blades will be downwind of the tower and segmented so that they bend with the force of heavy winds produced by extreme weather, such as hurricanes and severe storms.
Inspired by the way palm trees move in storms, the lightweight, segmented trunks will bend in the wind while retaining segment stiffness. This alignment will reduce the mass required for blade stiffening by reducing the forces on the blades.
“The lighter weight should produce a more economic blade at less cost,” Selig said.
At lower wind speeds, the blades will be designed to spread out to maximize power production. With blades almost three times as long as current offshore designs, the SUMR research aims to target turbines that can produce up to 9 times as much power at rated conditions.
Eric Loth, a former AE professor who is now Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor in the University of Virginia’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, leads the investigation team, which includes Selig from Illinois, the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines, Sandia National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, as well as corporate partners Dominion Resources, General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Vestas Wind Systems.