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UMaine lands $1.4m to hatch 'rocket-fuelled' floating wind design

Ultra-lightweight concrete design using NASA technology will be 'radical departure' from current concepts

The University of Maine (UMaine) Advanced Composites Center has landed a $1.4m grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to design an ultra-lightweight concrete floating wind power concept fitted with technology first developed by NASA to dampen vibrations in rockets.

Awarded under the DOE’s $26m Atlantis (Aerodynamic Turbines, Lighter and Afloat with Nautical Technologies and Integrated Servo-control) programme, the UMaine design will incorporate “motion mitigation” systems to counter at-sea platform vibrations, with an eye on building lighter floating foundations with higher-performing turbines to “significantly” lower floating wind’s levelised cost of energy (LCOE).

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“We are very appreciative that ARPA-E has selected UMaine for these highly competitive awards,” said Habib Dagher, executive director of the UMaine Composites Center. “With this funding, we plan to further stabilise our floating wind turbine hull technology in extreme storms by integrating NASA rocket vibration suppression technology into the design.

“This will help lighten the hull and further decrease our already very low electricity costs. This work builds on our 12 years of experience in floating wind technology and provides a whole new direction that could further revolutionise the design.”

Anthony Viselli, manager of offshore design and testing at the UMaine Composites Center, added: “This programme will leverage the unique design, numerical modeling and scale model testing expertise located at the UMaine Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory to significantly advance this concept and offer a cost-competitive solution to industry.”

Dagher and the UMaine Composites Center have been the driving force behind the first industrial-scale floating wind technology project heading for US waters, the 12MW New England Aqua Ventus 1 pilot, which will test a concrete semisubmersible design dubbed VolturnUS off Maine.

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Aqua Ventus 1, originally backed by $40m in federal funding, was given a shot of the arm in June when Maine Governor Janet Mills signed legislation that compelled state utility regulators to approve a power off-take agreement (PPA) for the project, after her predecessor had delayed approval of the PPA citing cost, the broad terms of which were initially agreed in 2014.

“The new ARPA-E floating concept is a radical design departure [from existing concepts] that will pay off after Aqua Ventus starts construction in 2021 and will not be used on [that project],” Dagher told Recharge.

A 1:8-scale version of the VolturnUS concept was installed off Maine’s coast from 2013-14 — the first offshore turbine to deliver power to the US grid.

Alongside the ARPA-E project, UMaine’s Composite Center has also been tapped to collaborate on a $1.5m project being led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory targetting “transformational” floating wind energy technology.

The Focal (Floating Offshore Wind & Controls Advanced Laboratory) experimental programme aims to create the “first public floating wind turbine scale-model data set to include advanced turbine controls, floating hull load mitigation technology, and hull flexibility” using four 1:60-scale 15MW model units.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently advancing plans for a “white paper” to look at the prospects for floating wind power developments off the country’s northeast coastline, raising hopes that projects in the Atlantic could soon be added to the clutch of arrays moving ahead off California and Hawaii.

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