Oregon students, faculty using Mesalands turbines for research

QCS photo: Steve Hansen Oregon State University graduate student Josh Wilcox sets up his tennis-ball cannon for the next attempt at hitting a wind turbine blade Tuesday at Mesalands Community College.

QCS photo: Steve Hansen
Oregon State University graduate student Josh Wilcox sets up his tennis-ball cannon for the next attempt at hitting a wind turbine blade Tuesday at Mesalands Community College.

By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer

A professor and two graduate students from Oregon State University are using the wind turbine generator at Mesalands Community College for research aimed at evaluating the potential impact on birds and bats that may collide with turbine blades.

Oregon State University’s School of Mechanical Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering is conducting this research as part of a multi-sector grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the impact of coastal wind energy development on bird and bat species, said Roberto Albertani, OSU associate professor.

Albertani said the research is part of a larger study of the possible risks to birds and bats from wind energy development, including reduction in habitat, disruption of migratory pathways, injury and death through collision, and injury and death from eddy currents in the wake of revolving wind turbine blades. Albertani said the Mesalands project is designed to generate data that can be used as a standard in future research.

Albertani said he and the two graduate students, Josh Wilcox and Jeremy Flowers, mounted two sensors to each of the wind turbine blades, as well as other instruments that will help measure impact data.

On Tuesday afternoon, using a cannon he designed, Wilcox launched tennis balls at the turbine hoping they would strike the blades. Data gathered from any strikes will be used to establish differences between vibrations from impact and those from normal blade rotation.

Flowers said its is exciting to be part of a study that will produce the first data for use in studies of bird and bat impacts.

Albertani said the research could help to develop a system that wind farm operators can use to monitor and adjust turbine operations to migratory patterns. Once an impact is detected, he said, such a system could shut a wind turbine down and allow operators to adjust the scheduling of wind turbine activation.

Albertani said along with the sensors, cameras could be mounted to the turbine that will allow operators to identify species that strike the turbine blade. That would also allow operators to adjust their wind turbine scheduling by species.

For the most part, bird fatalities are caused by impact with the blades, but with bats death is usually caused by the pressure of turbine-blade wake currents they may contact, said Jim Morgan, Director of the North American Wind Research and Training Center.

Morgan said this scientific research is especially important for endangered species and in some agricultural areas where bats play a significant role in crop success.

Wilcox said currently there is no data available to even begin to define the data and mathematics needed to develop such a system. He said the Oregon team’s study would be a first step in making such a system a reality.

Flowers said the idea that this research could produce data for practical use is what drew him to the study. He said its exciting to have a part in developing the basic standards for this research.

Albertani said the research is being conducted at Mesalands because of its functional wind turbine and the college’s enthusiastic reception in hosting the study. He said in the private sector it would be impossible to conduct such research. Private firms would not allow the experimenters to simply shut down one a turbine, outfit it with equipment and use it for a week of testing.

Morgan said, “We are always open to the possibility of the turbine being used by other institutions for research projects and studies.”

He said he hopes this study will attract similar research in wind energy to be conducted at Mesalands.

“Mesalands is excited to be a part of this revolutionary research project with Oregon State University,” Morgan said. “Our turbine and first-class facilities at the Wind Center are not only used to train students to become qualified wind energy technicians but to also contribute to the future research of wind energy technology.”

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