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Sandia to operate new Texas wind test facility with partners

Sandia National Laboratories is moving its wind energy test facility to a location owned by Texas Tech University near Lubbock, with operations likely to begin there in spring 2012.

Sandia , Texas Tech and Group NIRE are negotiating a three-way research agreement under which this facility will operate. The US Energy Department is funding Sandia’s work.

The site will perform primarily experimental work in turbine-to-turbine interactions and will evaluate innovative rotor technologies. It will also investigate areas including aero-acoustics, aero-elasticity and structural health monitoring using embedded sensor systems.

“Wind flows into a turbine, and we understand how the turbine responds,” says Sandia project lead Jon White. “But what we aren’t as clear on is what happens to the wind as it leaves that turbine and moves to the next turbine.”

“We don’t have a great deal of clarity about how wind turbines interact with each other,” he adds. “Once you understand that, you can better optimize performance for an entire wind farm rather than just focusing on optimizing individual turbines.”

Researchers will also continue work on the structural mechanical adaptive rotor technology (SMART) rotor program at the Lubbock site. “Most wind turbine rotors today are passive structures. Sandia’s SMART rotors have active surfaces similar to airplane wings, with actuators that change their shape, allowing for greater control and flexibility,” says White.

The Lubbock site will include an initial installation of two wind turbines and three anemometer towers, with the potential to expand to nine or more wind turbines.

The Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering (WISE) center offers Sandia a 35-year history in wind science research. WISE already has wind and other testing facilities that include a 200 meter high anemometer tower, a 9,000-square-foot assembly building and strong wind site.

“It is very special indeed to have a long-term, collaborative research and development partner like Sandia National Laboratories,” says Texas Tech research vice president Taylor Eighmy.

Local company Group NIRE will help transfer technology to industry that could emerge from the wind turbine research agreements.

Sandia’s wind energy program has shared an instrumental partnership for more than 35 years with the US Agriculture Department’s research facility in the Texas Panhandle town of Bushland. Much of Sandia’s wind testing has taken place at the Bushland site, from the early days of vertical axis wind turbines to today’s work on sensors and smart rotors.

Given the research needs of the industry, however, Sandia and the department agreed that a different location was in the best interest of both organizations.

“The Lubbock site will continue the tradition of evaluating the next generation technology, such as SMART rotor, operational load monitoring and structural health monitoring technologies which seek to improve energy capture and reduce operations and maintenance costs,” says Dave Minster, manager of Sandia’s wind energy technologies group.

“These national test beds expand the nation’s knowledge base and capability in the design and advancements of composite wind turbine blades and turbine reliability, in order to reduce the cost of wind energy,” he says.