CASTINE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maine's energy future may depend on the wind, and a team of college students is helping create it.
Students from Maine Maritime Academy have completed testing on a scale-model wind turbine, which will play a key role in upcoming testing of designs for offshore ocean wind power systems.
The University of Maine's Advanced Engineered Composites Laboratory is leading the ocean wind research effort, and graduate student Heather Martin is helping to lead the model turbine project. Martin has been working closely with the MMA students and their professor, Dr. Richard Kimball, to prepare for testing of 1/50 scale models.
Martin says researchers need to better understand how ocean wind platforms will be affected by wind and wave forces, and the kinds of pressures that will be exerted upon structures and mooring lines, so they have built 1/50 scale models of three basic platform designs.
The model turbine, which is about six feet tall, will be mounted on each of those platforms in a special test tank in the Netherlands. Data from those tests will be used to develop complex computer models, which then can be used to analyze all the designs for real-size ocean wind structures. The University will use that information to design and build a far larger, 1/3 scale model platform and turbine, which will be tested in the waters off Monhegan island in 2012.
Martin says the project has been far more difficult than any of the researchers and team members expected. To get the most precise data, she says all elements of the turbine had to be as close to 1/50 scale as possible -- not just the size, but also the weight of the various components.
Martin had to design and build special turbine blades from carbon fiber to get them light enough for the testing. And weight will be a crucial part of the final designs. Professor Kimball says the oil industry already knows how to build offshore platforms, but they are massive, heavy and very expensive structures, and far too costly for ocean wind platforms. He says the challenge is to create wind platforms that will be strong enough to do the job, but light enough to be comparatively inexpensive to build. He says wind platforms may need to cost tens of millions, rather than the billion dollars an offshore oil or gas platform, can cost.
"This is one of the most complicated projects I've ever worked on," says Kimball. But he and the others say it also has the potential to create a new industry and a new future for Maine, if the state can become less dependent on fossil fuel for heating homes.