UTD receives $1.6million to boost wind research, renovate wind tunnel, labs

Gregory Binu | Mercury Staff

Texas is leading the nation in renewable energy expansion – specifically in wind energy— with which UTD is playing a critical role. Now with $1.6 million entering the campus thanks to Congress’ Consolidated Appropriations Act, UTD will enhance student research opportunities by constructing a new wind energy research headquarters, water wave tunnel and Intelligent Energy systems lab.

UTD already has a foot in the door when it comes to the wind industry, possessing the BLAST wind tunnel — which can create winds speeds between 76 mph and 112 mph — as well as a team that ranked fourth nationally last year in the Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition. Construction of the 4,478 square foot headquarters is set to begin in February and will provide UTD with new offices and meeting spaces. The Energy Intelligent Systems Lab will allow students to work on designing the circuits used in wind turbines. Finally, the new wind tunnel will allow UTD to research offshore wind energy generation through a wind wave tank inside the tunnel. This would increase research opportunities related to renewable energy development, expand the size of UTD’s wind energy club, and give UTD’s innovation capabilities an edge.

According to Texas Comptroller, Texas accounts for 26% of all wind-generated electricity in the U.S and has led the country for 17 years in wind energy production.

Professor Mario Rotea, director of the Center for Wind Energy at UTD (a.k.a. UTD Wind) and the site director for the NSF Industry University Cooperative Research Center WindSTAR, said that renewable energy will be a key part of the future American power grid.

“The future of the power grid will probably be a combination of natural gas, wind and solar, and those are probably going to be the predominant sources in the near to medium term,” Rotea said.

Robin Reeves, a PhD student at UTD, a research assistant in professor Todd Griffith’s lab and the Turbine design lead for UTD’s wind energy competition, said that UTD has the largest wind tunnel in the U.S. but cannot research offshore wind energy. This method for wind capture has the largest power potential and would augment UTD’s research abilities. However, without a wave pool, UTD cannot fully simulate offshore conditions.

“These experiments are very necessary to further the industry of wind energy … The winds are much higher, which gives us an opportunity to capture the wind … it would be a game changer to open that up,” Reeves said.

Comets interested in renewable energy can join the Wind Energy club advised by Griffith, which current president and EE senior Fernando Harmjanz said is beginner friendly as most members are self-taught. Students of all majors can join connect to internships with engineering firms or projects. Finally, students can participate in a summer wind energy research experience under the direction of mechanical engineering professor Stefano Leonardi.

“We want the students to reach out to us … we need talented students that can execute projects. And there is a tremendous interest at the national level in terms of providing funding and opportunities for doing this,” Rotea said.

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