Grant Helps Iowa State Establish Wind Energy Lab

John Davis

Researchers at Iowa State University will be able to learn more about wind turbine technology… a good idea when you consider how big wind energy has become in the state.

The school’s work with Arizona-based TPI Composites and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., to improve the process currently used to manufacture turbine blades has led to a three-year, $6.3 million project called the “Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Initiative.” This ISU press release says a third of the money comes from the Iowa Power Fund, a state program to advance energy innovation and independence, and equal shares from TPI Composites and the U.S. Department of Energy:

ISUwindbladesThe grant will allow Iowa State to establish a Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory on campus. The lab will feature the work of four faculty researchers: Matt Frank, Frank Peters and John Jackman, all associate professors of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, and Vinay Dayal, an associate professor of aerospace engineering. The grant will also support the research of five graduate students and several undergraduates.

The researchers’ goal is to develop new, low-cost manufacturing systems that could improve the productivity of turbine blade factories by as much as 35 percent.

“The current manufacturing methods are very labor intensive,” Jackman said. “We need to improve throughput – we need to get more blades produced every week in order for it to be economical to continue to produce wind energy components in the United States.”

Peters said possible manufacturing improvements include developments in automation and quality control.

The researchers will be working with smaller models of the turbine blades to see what are the best ways to boost efficiency and strength. Later work will focus on the towers, the nacelles, gearboxes and other components.

With installed wind capacity at 3,043 megawatts, Iowa ranks second in the nation in wind power production.