UH delves in wind tech
The University of Houston-led Lone Star Wind Alliance has enabled UH to become one of the major players in the realm of large turbine-testing wind research.
Both the University-assisted coalition and a Massachusetts group received $2 million from the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to design, construct and operate the large wind turbine research and testing facilities capable of testing offshore wind blades up to 330 feet in length.
"This is absolutely the kind of project you must have to be able to move toward a flagship university," Raymond Flumerfelt, dean of the Cullen College of Engineering, said. "It shows when you have a great faculty, great people, a good student body and a whole university behind you what you can do and how important it can be to the community."
Cullen College of Engineering Distinguished University Professor of mechanical engineering Su Su Wang, a world leader in polymer compounds research, is key to UH’s successes in turbine technology.
"This will be the largest and the most technologically advanced (wind turbine testing facility) in the world," Wang said. "Obviously, the wind is a non-polluting renewable energy resource. In order to make the wind produce energy you have to have a turbine to convert the kinetics of the wind into mechanical power, and to do that you need to have a turbine which is stiff, light-weight and stable."
In many areas, such as the ocean, a non-corrosive material is needed to make up the components of the turbine. Polymer composites are the only material used for wind turbines worldwide.
Wang said that the wind turbine itself is very large, and in many cases is more than 200 or 300 feet in length.
"It’s one of the largest advanced technology structures that you could encounter," Wang said. "The design of this would be one of the first steps to deal the wind turbine performance issues, and the testing itself would require proper design of the test facilities, the development of test methodology and the knowledge of interpreting the data."
Current wind turbines in the U.S. typically don’t exceed a maximum of 43 meters (120 feet) in length, Wang said.
"Our planned test facility will take care of the future generations of wind turbines beyond 70 up to 100 meters," Wand said.
The 23 acres of land, donated by British Petroleum, the second-largest oil company in the world, will be located in Ingleside, Texas, just north of Corpus Christi.
Flumerfelt said that the current turbine blades being used are expensive and are not optimal.
"They could be lighter, they could be larger and more efficient," Flumerfelt said. "The larger the blade the more area you sweep out, the more energy you get."
The more durable the blade the more affordable the energy will become, Flumerfelt said.
"If you’re able to design a much more efficient lighter, longer-lasting blade you’ll make wind energy even more usable by everybody," Flumerfelt said. "That’s what we’re about. It is clean, it’s renewable, it’ll be here forever.
The College of Engineering has set to develop better blades that will improve energy costs and act as a positive factor for the environment, and will place UH on a national scale for turbine testing, Flumerfelt said.
"I think it puts the University of Houston on the map of the world frontier of renewable energy research technology because, when it’s done, no other university in the world will have the facility and group of researchers even close to what we have," Wang said.