$200K Grants Will Support Technology Innovation and Workforce Development

Offshore wind turbine
UMass Lowell is spearheading efforts to conduct research and development of offshore wind technologies that can harness wind resources off the Atlantic coast and convert that wind into electricity.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Mechanical engineering Prof. Christopher Niezrecki and Asst. Prof. Murat Inalpolat are among the researchers from eight academic and research institutions across the state who have received grants from the Commonwealth totaling nearly $700,000 to advance offshore wind energy research and development. The funding was awarded through the Renewable Energy Trust of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC).

“Tapping into the Commonwealth’s world-class academic and research institutions will make Massachusetts a leader in the growing offshore wind sector in the United States,” says Gov. Charlie Baker. “These research projects will identify ways to make offshore wind projects more cost-effective and beneficial to the ratepayers of Massachusetts.”

Six of these institutions — UMass Lowell, UMass Amherst, UMass Dartmouth, Northeastern University, Tufts University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — were awarded a total of $300,000 to develop a multi-disciplinary collaboration, called the Massachusetts Research Partnership in Offshore Wind, that aims to increase innovation within projects and drive down costs by examining risks, finances and regulations associated with the industry. Niezrecki is the university’s principal investigator for the partnership, with UMass Lowell’s share amounting to $50,000.

Inalpolat will receive $150,000 to develop a new technique for monitoring the structural health of offshore wind-turbine blades. He will use low-cost wireless microphones to detect sound changes caused by defects or damage to a blade during the operation of the turbine. The project will be field-tested at the MassCEC’s Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown. Also supporting the project are the National Science Foundation WindSTAR I/UCRC and the University of Texas at Dallas.
Offshore wind turbine blades
University researchers led by Asst. Prof. Murat Inalpolat are developing a new technique for monitoring the structural health of offshore wind-turbine blades during the turbine’s operation. Note the size of the worker rappelling down the side of the pylon.

Other institutions that will receive MassCEC funding include Bristol Community College and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Training the Next Generation of Workforce

“These awards are a testament to UMass Lowell’s leadership in wind energy R&D in the Northeast,” says Niezrecki, who chairs the Mechanical Engineering Department and directs the NSF WindSTAR I/UCRC. “They will enable multiple universities and organizations to collaborate together toward achieving a common goal. We hope to be able to tackle bigger problems by leveraging each other’s expertise and provide our students new opportunities for hands-on learning experiences.”

He adds: “Our research partnership will provide a means for exchanging information, setting up a series of workshops across the state and hopefully creating an Offshore Wind Energy Research Consortium.”

Inalpolat’s project will provide training and professional development for graduate, undergraduate and high school students in the form of research experience, publications and presentation of the results at different venues, teamwork and learning as well as teaching.

“High school students will work directly with our team through the university’s summer camps,” he says. “This past summer, we had 30 local high school students live on campus for two weeks, participating in a camp called ‘Engineering a Connected World.’ A subset of these students worked on a project related to wind turbines and renewable energy.”

The professors’ research facility, the Structural Dynamics and Acoustic Systems Lab at Kitson Hall on North Campus, will host a team of undergraduate co-op students in summer of 2017. “Funding from the Mass CEC will support the hiring of additional university senior students to work on our research project, creating an educated workforce in the near term,” notes Inalpolat.

He adds: “We will involve graduate students to work on specific parts of the project, such as acoustic sensing and monitoring, machine learning, data analytics and aeroacoustics. This will increase the readiness of these students to be added to the highly educated workforce and potentially become the next generation of leaders in wind-energy technology development.”