UVA MAE Leads Elite Team of Scientists, Scholars & Industry Partners

In 15 years, a forest of giant wind turbines could be planted off the coast of Virginia delivering enough energy to power as many as 500,000 homes, thanks to research that has earned UVA a $3.56 million federal grant from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E effort to design extreme-scale blades that are 200 meters long. Such blades can power 50-megawatt wind turbines that are 10 times more powerful than current wind turbines and taller than the Eiffel Tower.

The bio-inspired SUMR Wind (Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors) research is the brainchild of Professor Eric Loth, MAE Department Chair and AIAA Fellow. Loth has assembled an elite cross disciplinary team from around the country in order to fulfill the project’s mission: development, testing and design for a morphing 50-megawatt wind turbine concept that can reduce offshore cost of energy by as much as 50% by 2025.

UVA MAE research scientists and graduate students are designing the novel morphing concept and scaling the extreme-scale turbine to a demonstrator test-bed. The team also includes world-class aerodynamicists from the University of Illinois, extreme-scale blade structural designers from Sandia National Labs, experts in state-of-the-art control techniques from the University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines and engineers at the internationally renowned National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), where the ultralight blades will be tested on a 12-story demonstrator in the mountains of Colorado.

To ensure this revolutionary energy concept will be realized, the team closely collaborated with the world’s top turbine companies (GE, Siemens, and Vestas) on a strategy to translate this technology to commercialization. “If we can realize an extreme-scale lightweight turbine, it will be incredibly powerful and efficient, dramatically reducing the cost of energy. This is key as, ultimately, cost is going to drive decisions about energy much more than anyone’s view point on climate change,” says Carlos Noyes, Ph.D. student.