Public Release: 

New technology could reduce wind energy costs

University of Sheffield

Engineers from the University of Sheffield have developed a novel technique to predict when bearings inside wind turbines will fail which could make wind energy cheaper.

The method, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A and developed by Mechanical Engineering research student Wenqu Chen, uses ultrasonic waves to measure the load transmitted through a ball bearing in a wind turbine. The stress on wind turbine is recorded and then engineers can forecast its remaining service life.

When a bearing is subject to a load, its thickness is reduced by a very small amount due to elastic deformation, and the speed of sound is affected by the stress level in the material. Both these effects change the time of flight of an ultrasound wave through a bearing.

The new method is the only way to directly measure the transmitted load through the rolling bearing components. It uses a custom-built piezoelectric sensor mounted in the bearing to measure the time of flight and determine the load. This sensor is less expensive and significantly smaller than currently available, making it suitable for smaller turbines. It can also provide a better prediction of the maintenance needed, saving money in servicing.

Professor Rob Dwyer-Joyce, co-author of the paper and Director of the Leonardo Centre for Tribology at the University of Sheffield says: "This technique can be used to prevent unexpected bearing failures, which are a common problem in wind turbines. By removing the risk of a loss of production and the need for unplanned maintenance, it can help to reduce the cost of wind energy and make it much more economically competitive."

The new technology has been validated in the lab and is currently being tested at the Barnesmore wind farm in Donegal, Ireland by the company, Ricardo. It is hoped it will be used in the future inside monitoring systems for other turbines.

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For more information: Kirsty Bowen, Senior Communications Officer, Faculty of Engineering: E: kirsty.bowen@sheffield.ac.uk T: 0114 215 7060

Notes to editors

Reference: W. Chen, R. Mills, R. S. Dwyer-Joyce (2015) Direct load monitoring of rolling bearing contacts using ultrasonic time of flight. Proceedings of the Royal Society A. Volume: 471 Issue: 2180 Engineering in Sheffield

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield is one of the biggest in the UK. With seven departments and two interdisciplinary programmes covering all the engineering disciplines, 4,300 students, 950 staff and £50M annual research-related income from government, industry and charity, it is one of the best institutions in the world to study or do research in engineering. The Faculty has a long tradition of working with industry including Rolls-Royce, Network Rail and Siemens. Its industrial successes are exemplified by the award-winning Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), the £25 million Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) and - jointly with Boeing - the new £43M Factory 2050, the UK's first fully reconfigurable digital factory. http://www.shefield.ac.uk/faculty/engineering/

The University of Sheffield

With almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities.

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Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in. In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

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