Research Areas

Wind Energy Initiative

Research Areas

Iowa State University’s 10-week research program in Wind Energy Science, Engineering, and Policy (WESEP) for undergraduate students provides students the opportunity to conduct individual research and work collaboratively with interdisciplinary research teams in four key areas:

Wind Energy Resource Characterization and Aerodynamic Loads

Background Information: Wind resource characteristics, including wind speed and turbulence, seasonal and diurnal variation, variation with height, icing potential, and location relative to other wind farms, determine site suitability and potential for energy extraction. Improvements in short-term wind power forecasting (hour to day) accuracy heavily influences electric grid economics and reliability. Environmental factors include effects on birds, bats, weather/navigation radar, noise, aesthetics, agricultural operations and production.

Student Tasks: Students working in this area will collectively learn to run and interpret results from a mesoscale weather forecast model. One student will take the lead under mentorship of an experienced graduate student and will serve as a forecast resource person to other team members. Others will take the lead on the surface flux data and the laser radar (Lidar) data. As a group they will explore the impact of crop type (e.g., corn vs. soybeans) and surface heat exchange on mean wind speeds, turbulence intensity, and wind shear across the blades from combinations of measurements and modeling.

Research Labs Involved:

Wind Energy Conversion Systems and Grid Operations

Background Information: Design enhancements to improve efficiency and reliability require analysis, modeling, and simulation of blades, electric machines, and power electronic control systems. Aerodynamic and aeroelastic loads expected on future wind turbine systems must be considered for optimum design and in the development of new materials and processes necessary to achieve efficiency in these systems. Electric machine needs include high power density generators, semi-conductor-based power electronic converter topologies, reliability monitoring systems, and controls for maximizing power extraction from the wind. Wind power variability drives the need for new controls and storage.

Conductor materials, the electric circuit design, and their deployment raise research issues related to the cost of circuit capacity, and interaction with rail and highway right of way (for transmission) and turbine placement and field drainage systems (for collection circuits). Policy questions are key for transmission cost allocation, federal versus local power to force or block right of way access, and wind plant interaction with day ahead and real-time electricity markets.

Student Tasks: Students will obtain hands-on training on a test bed for a doubly-fed induction generator (DFIG), which is the type of generator most commonly used in modern wind turbines. The students will learn the basics of power generation from wind, and will get acquainted with basic concepts of electric motor drives and power electronics. Then, students will collaborate with graduate students to help design the generator’s control system. Students will use an experimental facility that is part of the Alternate Energy Grid Infrastructure and Systems (AEGIS) laboratory.

Research Labs Involved:

  • Alternate Energy Grid Infrastructure and Systems (AEGIS) Laboratory

Materials, Manufacturing, Construction, and Supply Chain

Background Information: Major advancements in design and manufacturing are needed to reduce the weight of components, increase throughput, and reduce costs to a level that is more competitive with other energy sources. Specific study areas include process control of large-scale composite manufacturing, blade assembly, intelligent automation, and integrated design and manufacturing solutions to address composite manufacturing phenomena.

Taller towers and larger blades will increase capacity and efficiency of wind generation, but transportation limits, foundation design, and construction issues must be addressed. Onsite fabrication and modular construction may also enable advances in wind capture, including use of high strength concrete and steel, composite and other advanced materials and/or hybrid towers. Supply chain research includes the facility location problem with an objective to reduce procurement and transportation costs, optimization of routing and scheduling across the supply chain to minimize costs, risk assessment of supply chain for critical components to minimize interruptions, and transportation infrastructure planning for efficient movement of components to and within wind farms.

If larger and higher turbines can be designed, they will produce more electricity reducing the infrastructure cost per kWh. Through design for manufacturability, turbines can be produced with less fabrication and procurement costs, as well as reduced maintenance cost.

Student Tasks: Students will investigate the entire supply chain to understand where significant cost breakthroughs can occur. Besides the design and manufacturing, the students will consider trade-offs among material and design options, limited supplies of raw materials, as well as end of life disposal and recycling considerations. As the components become larger, the transportation constraints and costs become even more critical. Students will investigate all of these issues with respect to the global supply chain of materials and components.

Research Laboratories Involved:

Reliability and Turbine Monitoring

Background Information:
As the demand for renewable energy through wind power generation increases, so does the size and complexity of the wind turbine and generator. The reliability of the blades and other major components (gearbox, generator, nacelle, and tower) is critical to the overall safe operation and cost of energy. Numerous inspection and data analysis methods have been developed by the nondestructive evaluation (NDE) community to detect, monitor, and/or characterize the integrity of engineered structures. However, all techniques are not immediately applicable and cost effective due to the massive size of wind turbine generators (WTG).

Student Tasks: Students will have an opportunity to apply existing inspection technologies to blade samples to develop an understanding of the advantages and limitations of each nondestructive evaluation method. Students will have access to experimental facilities and physics-based models of the inspection methods for use in designing inspection methods. They will work with Center for Nondestructive Evaluation engineers and industry inspectors to understand existing practices and quantify the performance of the most common techniques for gears, namely fluorescent penetrant and magnetic particle methods. In particular, students will use a set of samples comprised of WTG components and materials in a series of laboratory exercises to gain an understanding of the advantages and limitations of each of nondestructive evaluation methods, and they will receive basic instruction in equipment operation to utilize the laboratory instruments for their individual projects.

Research Laboratories Involved:


nsfThis Research Experience for Undergraduates is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.