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Researchers from Purdue University and Sandia National Laboratory have developed a technique that uses sensors and computational software to constantly monitor forces exerted on wind turbine blades - a step toward improving efficiency by adjusting for rapidly changing wind conditions.

"The ultimate goal is to feed information from sensors into an active control system that precisely adjusts components to optimize efficiency," says Purdue doctoral student Jonathan White, who is leading the research with Douglas Adams, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of Purdue's Center for Systems Integrity.

The engineers embedded sensors called uniaxial and triaxial accelerometers inside a wind turbine blade as the blade was being built. The blade is now being tested on a research wind turbine at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agriculture Research Service laboratory in Bushland, Texas. Personnel from Sandia and the USDA operate the research wind turbines at the Texas site.

According to the researchers, sensors could be instrumental in future turbine blades that have "control surfaces" and simple flaps like those on an airplane's wings to change the aerodynamic characteristics of the blades for better control. Because these flaps would be changed in real time to respond to changing winds, constant sensor data would be critical.

Research findings show that using a trio of sensors and "estimator model" software developed by White accurately reveals how much force is being exerted on the blades. Purdue and Sandia have applied for a provisional patent on the technique.

The researchers say that sensor data in a smart system might be used to better control the turbine speed by automatically adjusting the blade pitch, while also commanding the generator to take corrective steps. Sensor data also will be used to design more resilient blades.

The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through Sandia National Laboratories.

SOURCE: Purdue University

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