Not sure of where you live, but in Texas, the wind can be a real force of nature. No, I’m not talking about the times when tornadoes spring out of the clouds, or the occasions when hurricanes decide to visit our southern coastline. I’m talking about this persistent, blustery breeze that sweeps in from the open prairies or up from the Texas Hill Country. And if you’re an avid cyclist like myself, you’re often faced with trying to convert a strong, pushy headwind into a much-appreciated tailwind. (These are the times cyclist envision ourselves as Wild Pecos Bill for however long the wind decides to carry us or simply nudge us along.)
Nevertheless, the real question remains: what’s the best way to channel this giant blowhard into never-ending energy? Recently, we covered the energy potential of graphene. (You can review that topic by clicking here.) But what about the clean energy of wind? Legendary Texas businessman T. Boone Pickens has been examining this very question for some time now.
Turns out, wind power’s new found hope could rest in ultra-long turbine blades inspired by the way palm trees sway in the wind. The blades, designed under a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, would be 200 meters long, roughly the size of two football fields placed end-to-end. (In comparison, the longest blades available today are just 80 meters in length.) But, the real benefit lies in the possibility to construct 50-megawatt turbines. Compare that to the power of today’s, which outputs just two megawatts.
Who came up with this big idea? The Sandia superblades are based on concepts developed by Eric Loth, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia. The design features a series of joints with the ability to fold in response to the strength of the wind. Positioned downwind of the tower (in contrast to conventional blades, which are upwind), the blades clinch like talons in extreme wind conditions, lessening forces on the turbine. Under ideal conditions, the blades would extend to their full length.
As you could imagine, logistics and on-site assembly would be a big challenge – transporting and erecting something towering more than 200 meters in height. So where would these newfound titans of energy fit into our landscape? They’re particularly well suited for offshore installations in hurricane-prone areas, where the blades could fold to minimize the damage and high stresses often caused by hurricane-strength winds. Plus, blade size and tower height aren’t faced with the same limitations offshore as on land. Elsewhere, Duke Energy has plans of building a wind farm in Oklahoma using the new larger blades. Additionally, they could be used to produce more power economically in any area where winds are light, maximizing the blades far reach and energy generating potential.
So, how does all this impact the industry of electronics distribution and design? With change comes innovation and new ways of thinking. In other words, the development of new technologies and exotic blade materials that are lighter, stronger and more efficient means that the drive to supersize wind turbines is unlikely to die down – much like the Texas wind. It will take years, perhaps even a decade or more for the Sandia design to find its way in the wind power marketplace. As a result, the search for the newest technologies to make this and other new ideas work continues.
To a design engineer, this isn’t anything new. It’s sweeping changes like these that fuel the pursuit of new ideas – pushing the envelope ever forward in the never-ending quest of creating the next technological wonder, where we all stand and marvel.
Here’s a list of some products and information that could bring this idea into a working reality sooner rather than later.
A good place for information on SiC and GaN technology to help narrow the wide bandgap.
Random listing of some products and information worth reviewing below:
David Fambrough is a technical writer for Mouser Electronics. He’s adamant that Lost in Space, Star Trek and James Bond have had a strong role in inspiring innovation and new design.
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