Wind Energy Industry Symposium brings together experts and ideas for advancing wind energy research

Event offers overview of the challenges, potential of wind energy through presentations and interactive discussions

Siqi Zhu, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, demonstrates the automated fabric layup machine in the Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory
Siqi Zhu, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, demonstrates the automated fabric layup machine in the Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory. Zhu designed the machine and wrote the control logic that enables it to automatically lay fiber glass fabric wave-free onto the required geometry of a wind turbine blade mold. This invention could replace current manual operations, greatly reducing the cost and variability of large composite structures.

More than 80 Researchers and industry practitioners in wind energy came to Iowa State’s campus ready to make connections during the Wind Energy Industry Symposium.

The event, hosted by the College of Engineering’s Wind Energy Initiative on Sept. 29, provided a place for speakers to share local, state and national perspectives on how to grow and expand wind energy research. Those in attendance heard opening remarks from Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert and College of Engineering Dean Sarah Rajala, followed by panel presentations (available here) from five different research thrust areas; participated in discussions; and received a tour of the wind energy research facilities on campus.

“Iowa State’s wind energy research is all encompassing,” said Raj Aggarwal, director of the Wind Energy Initiative. “We’ve got research that covers everything from electrical power systems to distribute the power generated from turbines to projects set up to characterize how wind flows across the landscape.”

He adds that this overarching perspective is exactly why the symposium was a success. “Collaboration is an integral part of this research. When you start bringing in ideas from all areas of one topic, it creates a dynamic space where you can see how all the pieces will fit together.”

The symposium was a culmination of efforts by the Wind Energy Initiative formally launched in 2011 as a College of Engineering Dean’s Research Initiative. Since that time, the team has established an NSF-Funded Ph.D. program in wind energy, as well as an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates summer program, and has achieved sustained research expenditures of more than $1M per year. The next steps toward establishing an actual Wind Energy Research Center require a more concentrated effort to establish and/or strengthen long-term partnerships with companies in the wind industry.

Fortunately, Wind Energy Initiative faculty had some relationships in place on which to build. The Hexcrete Tall Tower Project, currently funded by the Dept. of Energy, is just one example of how a new concept has been able to be moved forward because of industry collaboration. Through the Wind Energy Initiative, ISU was able to unite the precast concrete industry with wind turbine manufacturers to not only design 140 m turbine towers, but also conduct a variety of structural tests on full-size sections.

Another example of a successful university-industry collaboration was discussed in the Symposium by Frank Peters, interim department chair of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, and Mr. Steve Nolet of TPI Composites, Inc., a manufacturer of wind turbine blades. The ISU team was able to successfully understand the inherent challenges in the blade manufacturing process and develop and test solutions in Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory to prime the new technologies for introduction to the factory floor.

Through new connections made at the symposium, the WEI team hopes to increase and invigorate collaborations between ISU and industry partners across the wind energy industry, thereby moving it further toward the goal of establishing a member-based Wind Energy Research Center.