University of Minnesota to lead new wind energy consortium

Project will receive up to $8 million from U.S. Department of Energy

A consortium of wind energy researchers led by the University of Minnesota will receive up to $8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for fostering wind energy development in the United States. The consortium was one of only three across the country receiving funding.

The grant, funded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will support research to improve both land-based and offshore wind generation.

Fotis Sotiropoulos, director of the University of Minnesota's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and principal investigator on the project, along with a group of faculty from the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota Morris, Syracuse University, and Dakota County Technical College, will work in close collaboration with a powerhouse consortium of industrial partners to help reach the DOE's nationwide goal of achieving 20 percent wind power by 2030.

"This is about a new way of doing research with major societal impact, bringing together academia with industry," Sotiropoulos said. "The success in securing this grant is a result of the excellence of our industrial partnerships and the academic caliber and expertise of our faculty at the University of Minnesota."

Sotiropoulos said the vision of the Institute of Technology (the University of Minnesota's college of science and engineering) to build strong ties with elite companies such as 3M, Honeywell, WindLogics, Lockheed Martin, Eaton Corp. and others, made it possible to put together this winning consortium. The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), a signature program of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, was also a key player in the group's development and provided significant early-stage research funding in addition to matching funds of more than $500,000 in support of the project, he said. Cost share for this project was provided in part by customers of Xcel Energy through a grant from the Renewable Development Fund.

The activities of the consortium will be focused on a new 2.3 MW Siemens turbine to be built at the University of Minnesota Outreach Research and Education (UMore) Park in Dakota County. Plans for the consortium's activities uniquely dovetail with the University's vision for the 5,000-acre UMore Park property--development of a sustainable community of 20,000 to 30,000 residents. This planned community will integrate University research, teaching, and public engagement with innovations in renewable energy, environmental quality, health, and education. The 80-acre experimental facility portion of the UMore Park will be a one-of-a-kind co-laboratory where industry specialists can work together with university researchers in developing new technologies to drastically reduce the time from conceptual design to implementation in real-life wind farms. Existing wind turbines at the University of Minnesota Morris campus will also be instrumental in research, education, and outreach.

Besides Siemens Energy, industrial partners include Barr Engineering, Eaton Corporation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Luna Innovations, 3M and WindLogics.

Among University of Minnesota faculty wind energy projects are mechanical engineering professor Kim Stelson's work to make the wind power transmission system more durable. Now, problems arise when the wind blows too fast and puts pressure on the system. Another is one by Susan Mantell, also a mechanical engineering professor, to place sensors on turbine blades to detect signs of failure before they become acute--and expensive to fix.

"To become a world leader in wind energy we need to do several things to develop the most advanced, efficient, and reliable wind turbines," Sotiropoulos said. "We need to come up with bigger and better turbine rotor designs to capture more energy more efficiently. We need to figure out how to optimally design wind farms and develop novel mechanical energy transmission systems and electric generators. We need to figure out how to quickly detect and fix upcoming component failures before the turbine breaks. We need to design stronger and cheaper turbine foundations. We also need to better integrate wind with other renewables."

In addition to research, the consortium will undertake an ambitious educational and training program, targeting undergraduate and graduate students, technical community students, and practicing power-industry engineers. A Web-based wind power curriculum will be made available to universities across the country, as well as opportunities for hands-on training programs, industrial internships for students, and continuing education courses for engineers

"This project is a tremendous opportunity for the State of Minnesota," Sotiropoulos said. "It is about leading the way in educating the next generation of technicians and engineers who will fill the many new jobs in the emerging wind energy sector of our economy."

The other two grant awardees are consortia led by the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Maine.


October 27, 2009