Shape-Shifting Wind Turbine Blades Increase Clean Energy Production

Photo: Purdue
Smart Wind Turbines are the Future
Wind turbines need to be 'tuned' for a certain type of wind, and it is within that sweet spot that they are most efficient. But what happens when wind is blowing faster? Or slower? Sadly, below and above the ideal wind speed, wind turbines are not as effective at extracting clean power from the air. One solution, which is what researchers at Purdue are working on, is to have a turbine with 'smart' blades that can shape-shift depending on wind conditions. Read on for more details.
Purdue doctoral student Jonathan White holds a cross section of a wind turbine blade like the one used in research to improve the efficiency of turbines and prevent damage to blades from high winds. Photo: Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock
Discovery News writes:

The accelerometers measure how the blades subtly twist and turn as they cut through the air. In the first stage of their research, the Purdue scientists are measuring for blade fatigue and efficiency in an effort to design future turbine blades that last beyond the usual 20 years.

Once they have gathered enough data, the team plans to link the data from the accelerometers to mechanical actuators or aerelons, the flat panels on airplanes that help direct airflow, on the ends of the blades and to a control panel.

Traditionally, wind turbine blades are fixed. They have one fixed shape optimized to perform during moderate wind speeds. During low wind speeds the blade is too narrow for the wind to push the blade around efficiently. High wind speeds, which could generate the most power, push the blades too quickly, threatening to break the blade and can force operators to limit the speed and energy production.

Wind turbines equipped with the sensors, but without the actual ability to shape-shift, would still benefit from the greater amount of data gathered. The turbine could still be tuned to be more efficient. But the shape-shifting turbines are still a few years off (let's hope that by then the wind power industry is in better shape).

Via Discovery News, EurekAlert
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