UMass assistant professor receives grant for wind energy research

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LOWELL — Damage to massive wind turbine blades often goes unnoticed until the blade has failed. University of Massachusetts Lowell Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Murat Inalpolat seeks to change that.

The blades — which can weigh tons and size up to more than 200 feet in length — can crack, split, or develop holes from being outside. With a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Inalpolat will develop technology to detect blade damage using sound.

Inalpolat will mount wireless microphones inside blades, wireless speakers inside the turbine’s cavity and another microphone near the turbine to monitor sound. Using the microphone system, the assistant professor will identify damage from changes in audio frequencies, according to a UMass Lowell news release.

On average, wind turbines are about as tall as the Statue of Liberty, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. One turbine can create enough energy to power about 460 homes, the U.S. Geological Survey states. There are more than 63,000 wind turbines across the country.

“There is no other technology in today’s market that can monitor the condition and safety of turbine blades while they are operating,” Inalpolat said in the news release. “Our proposed system is low-cost, reliable, robust and it can be installed on both new and existing wind turbines.”

UMass Lowell Ph.D. candidates Jaclyn Solimine, of Haverhill, and Caleb Traylor, of Beeville, Texas, will work with Inalpolat to study acoustic data collected from full-size turbine blades. The turbines are being tested at the state Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown. The team seeks to hone in on which characteristics of sounds will be most useful in identifying damage, according to the release.

Inalpolat has also received support from the National Science Foundation, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and UMass Lowell’s WindSTAR research center.

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