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Engineering Team Uses Armstrong Fund for Science to Develop New Multi-rotor Offshore Wind Turbine

In May of 2012, a team of wind-power specialists from the College of Engineering was awarded a $30,000 grant from the Armstrong Fund for Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which the engineers are now using to help design, analyze, and optimize a new, multi-rotor, offshore wind turbine. For six years now, the Armstrong Fund has annually issued grants of $30,000 apiece over two years to a pair of teams to encourage transformative research that introduces new ways of thinking about pressing scientific or technical challenges. The engineering team, composed of Matthew Lackner and James Manwell from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and Sergio Breña of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, was chosen from among 22 proposals submitted last year.

With the Armstrong grant, Lackner, Manwell, and Breña are continuing the College of Engineering’s historic tradition of pioneering research in renewable wind energy. Their innovative multi-rotor turbine was inspired by the very high costs of installing offshore, wind-turbine support platforms. Over the past 20 years, the wind industry has dramatically increased rotor sizes to maximize energy production per platform. What Lackner and his colleagues propose is to lower costs and optimize output by using many smaller rotors supported on a single structure.

In recent years, Lackner and Manwell have collaborated on five offshore, wind-energy grants totaling more than $1.6 million, in addition to many grants received separately. Lackner’s research specialties are: offshore, deep-water wind energy; wind-turbine aerodynamics; offshore, wind-turbine load mitigation and structural control; and smart, wind-turbine rotor control. Manwell’s research focuses on offshore, wind-energy system design and analysis; effect of external conditions (wind and waves) on the design of offshore wind turbines; hybrid-power (wind/photovoltaics/diesel) system design and analysis; modeling of battery storage systems; and remote sensing techniques applied to wind-resource assessment.

Breña is an internationally recognized structural engineer with a specialty in concrete. Breña has over 15 years of experience in laboratory and field testing of structures and structural systems. Additionally, he has more than six years of structural design experience in projects involving rehabilitation of existing buildings to improve earthquake performance and structural design of underground structures and tunnel liners, among others.

Benefactors John and Elizabeth Armstrong established their Fund for Science Awards in 2006 to identify and support promising research that does not yet have enough data for application to standard funding channels.

"Elizabeth and I want to promote major scientific advances in society by supporting researchers with bold vision, documented credentials, and a passion for results," said John Armstrong.

Elizabeth Armstrong added that "We are happy there continues to be so much interest."

Armstrong awardees agree to present a public "Science for Non-scientists" lecture when their work is complete. The grants are administered by the UMass Amherst Office of Research and Engagement, headed by Vice Chancellor Michael Malone, in a competitive proposal process.

As Dr. Malone has said, "The campus greatly appreciates the Armstrongs’ generosity and confidence in our institution and faculty. Giving our faculty opportunities to innovate and excel in their research is an extraordinary gesture." (January 2013)