The University of Dayton Research Institute
(UDRI) just received a big boost to the tune of $270 000 in Ohio Third Frontier
funds to support its research in designing and testing structures and materials for composite wind turbine towers up to almost 400 ft. in height. These proposed fiberglass reinforced resin monoliths that will stand as much as 65 feet taller than the steel towers currently dotting wind farms around the world.
“The U.S. Department of Energy has reported that by 2030, 20 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. could be supplied by wind. But a number of design and material advancements need to be made in wind-turbine technology before that can happen,” said Brian Rice, Division Head for Multi-Scale Composites and Polymers at UDRI. Taller towers are key to harvesting more energy from wind, but their challenge, for now, is in designing a tower that is not only strong enough to not only carry the weight of the turbine – which can be as much as 100 tons – but also to resist buckling under the stress of the rotating machinery, Rice said.
In their present configurations, steel monopoles are pre-fabricated in sections as large as 14 feet in diameter and 70 feet long, then trucked in pieces to the wind site, where they are assembled and installed onto a concrete foundation. The typically hilly and remote character of current wind farm sites already poses major problems for access by truck.
In finished form, the average utility-grade tower is about 80 meters in height (roughly 265 feet). In other countries, the wind industry has been setting its sights on a new standard for tower height at 100 meters (328 feet), Rice said. Such increased height of a tower necessitates an increase in tower diameter, too.
Rice envisions a solution where fiberglass and resin composites could be used to fabricate tower sections on-site at the wind farm using raw materials delivered to the site. “On-site fabrication eliminates the transportation problems and makes more sites accessible to wind power development,” Rice said. “A new design concept could solve that problem as well.” Putting such a scenario into action means that its manufacturing operation would be staffed primarily by local labor – creating a definite advantage.
In addition, the corrosion-resistant properties of composites would be far better suited than steel for off-shore wind farms, which are just starting to be developed in U.S. waters, he added.
To this end, a project team under Rice’s direction has been working on fiberglass composite wind tower for more than two years, during which materials have been tested and coupon samples analyzed. This project team includes lead partner, Ershigs, Inc., and Ohio participants UDRI and Edison Materials Technology Center (EMTEC)
in Dayton, WebCore Technologies in Miamisburg, Owens Corning in Columbus, and Ashland Performance Materials in Dublin.
Rice said that the next step will be to prepare for product demonstration, which includes the goal of completing and testing a full-scale 100 m composite tower – which he said will be one of the largest composite structures ever built. The Third Frontier funding through a Research Commercialization Program (RCP) grant will help support the partners in the design, analysis, construction, and testing of a series of progressively larger components. A feasibility study demonstrating the commercial viability of a composite tower was funded by the “Protective Integrated Coatings for Extreme Environments” (under the Ohio Department of Development TECH# 09-007) and jointly managed by OSU and UDRI.
UDRI researchers are working several other programs that complement the on-site, large tower project. In one effort, a U.S. Air Force advanced-materials contract is allowing UDRI to develop smaller composite wind turbines to generate electricity in areas of low-speed wind. The smaller turbines, which can be trucked in sections and erected in remote military installations, can also serve well in civilian settings where wind is low and energy demand not great, such as rural areas and industrial parks in Ohio. Another project, with Twenty First Century Energy of Fairborn, involves the design and production of smaller, vertical-axis tower components and materials.
The $700,000 Air Force program awarded in 2009 has received $1 million in additional funds for year two, to begin in May 2010.
Rice said UDRI’s decades of experience in aerospace and materials research created a base of expertise for its jump into wind energy research. “A wind turbine has many of the same structures and systems as aircraft, including coatings, lubricants, bearings, electrical systems, composite components and other design elements,” he said. “We’re leveraging our expertise in these areas to create a center of excellence in wind energy, which will support the creation of green-collar jobs in Ohio.”
In January 2010, UDRI received a $41,500 Small Business Innovative Research grant from the National Science Foundation to design and test sensors for wind turbines to monitor the structural health of turbine blades and provide warnings if parts are in need of repair or replacement.
The University of Dayton Research Institute is the research arm of the University of Dayton, located in Dayton, Ohio. UDRI is a national leader in scientific and engineering research, serving government, industry, and not-for-profit customers. Its full-time professional staff of engineers and scientists conduct research and provide support in a wide variety of technical areas. UDRI works with its customers on many levels, ranging from short-term projects completed on an as-needed basis, through contractual partnering or teaming relationships, to working side-by-side with our customers in multi-million dollar long-term contracts.
The Ohio Third Frontier was initiated in February 2002. This project is the state's largest-ever commitment to expanding Ohio's high-tech research capabilities and promoting innovation and company formation that will create high-paying jobs for generations to come. The 10-year, $1.6 billion initiative is designed to: Build world-class research capacity; support early stage capital formation and the development of new products; and finance advanced manufacturing technologies to help existing industries become more productive. Through the Ohio Third Frontier Project, additional Federal and private sector support can boost the total investment to more than $6 billion.
Ershigs, Inc. designs, manufactures, fabricates, and installs corrosion-resistant products made of Fiberglass Reinforced Plastics (FRP) such as process and effluent piping, abrasion resistant piping, storage and process vessels, stacks and chimney liners, duct systems and valves.
The Center for Multifunctional Polymer Nanomaterials and Devices
(CMPND) leads a research and commercialization partnership in polymer nanotechnology. This multi-institutional, interdisciplinary organization is centered at The Ohio State University in conjunction with research university partners, University of Akron, University of Dayton, University of Toledo, Kent State University, and Wright State University. CMPND puts Ohio at the forefront of nanotechnology research and commercialization opportunities. Other partners include three additional Ohio universities, and more than 60 large and small companies in Ohio. CMPND helps target markets that build on the research strengths of the participating universities and national labs, and develops manufacturing protocols and nanostructures for near-term industrial polymeric nanocomposites, emerging polymer photonic components and devices, and more futuristic biomedical devices and systems with nanoscale functions.