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Cash boosts university’s green engineering

08 March 2010

The University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering has been awarded four grants from the Northern Wind Innovation Programme (NWIP). In total, the Faculty has received a share of over £815,600 from a pot of £3 million provided by the NWIP, which is specifically aimed at stimulating innovation and technological developments for the offshore wind industry in the North of England.

The funds will be used on a number of projects at the University, including £400,000 on the new Sheffield-Siemens Wind Power Research Centre (S²WP), located at the Kroto Innovation Centre, Broad Lane, Sheffield. The centre, which was officially opened in December 2009, will focus on developing the most reliable, innovative and efficient wind turbine generators that will be at the forefront of future onshore and offshore wind power systems.

In addition, a grant from the NWIP worth £35,000 will be used to boost a project between the University’s Leonardo Centre for Tribology; Ricardo, a leading provider of technology, product innovation, engineering solutions and strategic consulting to the world's automotive, transport and energy industries; and Roballo Engineering, a manufacturer of large scale rolling element bearings for the wind turbine industry.

The project has already seen Ricardo look at bearings in a wind turbine gearbox and try to combat classic fault categories by developing solutions for them.  These solutions have involved looking at ways to ensure that fatigue damage or wear never reach a critical condition during the turbine life and have recognised that the lubrication of the bearings plays an important role in the safety and reliability of wind turbines. Experts at the University’s Leonardo Centre will now apply their analysis and oil-film measurement techniques in collaboration with Ricardo and Roballo to develop new more reliable and longer lasting bearings.  This would substantially reduce maintenance costs surrounding wind turbines and enable greener energy to be produced at a lower cost.

A further grant of £80,664 from the NWIP was awarded to the University to aid project  "BearInspect"  in the University’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, which aims to achieve better reliability standards and reduce corrective maintenance costs in wind turbines through accurate condition monitoring.

This will be done by implementing an integrated condition monitoring system which will combine the use of acoustic emission and vibration sensors in conjunction with oil temperature sensors and oil particle counters to evaluate the overall operational condition of the turbine’s generator, gearbox bearings, main shaft and yaw bearings. This would then result in a reduction of inspection times and the need for corrective maintenance. This essential research would again lead to a substantial decrease in the overall operational and maintenance costs associated with wind turbines.

Finally, a share of £300,000 from NWIP will be used on a project involving the University of Sheffield and world-leading technical consultancy Romax, looking at the interactions between wind turbine main shaft loads, magnetic loads and bearings of wind turbine generators.

 Although these interactions are currently not understood very well, there is evidence that these can have significant effects on bearing reliability.  As a result, the project aims to develop and validate bearing design, selection and analysis techniques which combine the effects of shaft and magnetic loads and enable such interactions to be considered at the design stage.

Overall, it is hoped the technological developments reached via these projects have a significant impact on the offshore wind industry and in turn aid the Government’s commitment to raise the proportion of energy derived from renewable sources from 2.4 per cent to 15 per cent by 2020.
Professor Mike Hounslow, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Engineering at the University of Sheffield, comments: “World-class engineering has the capacity to affect the lives of everyone, nowhere more so than in work to deliver new, clean, green sources of energy.  The work our teams will do on delivering wind power affects us all in ensuring a continued supply of electricity and helping the UK to meet its carbon reduction targets.”

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