Cedar Rapids Gazette: State Funds Put UI in Wind Turbine Simulator Race

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

By Dave DeWitte
The Gazette

The University of Iowa is one step closer to winning a competition to build a $78 million wind turbine drive train simulator for the federal Department of Energy.

The Iowa Power Fund Board approved negotiations Tuesday to finalize a contract for a $15 million grant to help build the Wind Energy National Test Institute, which would test huge wind turbines in the 5- to 15-mega watt range. Wind turbines keep getting bigger to gain efficiencies that drive down the cost of wind power.

With that growth, reliability has become a growing concern for the industry because of the limited amount of testing turbine manufacturers can do on the ground, according to Barry Butler, dean of the University of Iowa College of Engineering, and leader of a team seeking to bring the simu lator to Iowa. The answer from the Department of Energy is to build a giant dynamometer, a kind of exercise treadmill for wind turbine drive trains.

The dynamometer will provide accelerated life testing of the wind turbines under shifting load, vibration, and other factors that a turbine drive train would encounter in a real-world installation.

The UI proposed to install the dynamometer in a certified green build ing on five acres of land at the UI Research Park.

It would have access to a rail line for moving the gigantic turbines.

The $15 million from the Iowa Power Fund would complement a $45 million grant being sought from the energy department to build the simulator.

A separate $5 million grant also is being sought from the Iowa Department of Economic Development The UI and project partners would contribute $18 million in land and other in-kind contributions.

The UI’s application for state funding notes the university’s “unparalleled” expertise in modeling and simulation and Iowa’s location at the heart of the nation’s wind energy equipment manufacturing.

The UI application adds that the project’s design minimizes risk.

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