Student project making waves in floating wind-turbine testing technology

Wind energy is moving from land to offshore locations with much stronger and more consistent winds.

However, as much as 80% of wind resource is concentrated in deep waters – waters deeper than 60m. This means that supporting structures cannot be fixed to the sea floor, and that there is a need to design and build floating foundations to support large wind turbines – up to 15MW, with 240m rotor diameter. These floating platforms not only must provide enough stability to the turbine so power generation is consistent, but also ensure that blades and tower do not ‘feel’ any ocean waves.

Caitlin with project

Meet Mechanical Engineering Honours student, Caitlin Scarborough.

During her final year, she alone designed, built and tested a floating platform that can support a 5MW wind turbine. Her platform was tested at the University of Adelaide wave flume under a range of wave and wind conditions, and the platform motion was detected using a motion capturing system OptiTrack.

Caitlin mastered her CAD-skills while designing and drawing a platform, and grew her confidence and communications skills while working with the ‘guru’ technicians from the Mechanical and Electrical workshop. Here her experimental skills were put to the test, running the hydraulic wave paddle to generate waves, setting up and calibrating the motion capturing system, and designing real time controllers for the turbine. Caitlin’s experimental results were a great match to the numerical analysis she had run.

    Student project on youtube

    Watch Caitlin's presentation on Youtube.

    So why is Caitlin’s student project important?

    1. Caitlin's project has helped the University of Adelaide to build the experimental test rig to speed up research in floating wind energy.
    2. The fully operational floating platform will be tested in the future under a wider range of environmental conditions to detect drawbacks in the design.
    3. The project will assist the development of hybrid wind-wave energy platforms currently being investigated in the School of Mechanical Engineering, with the platform to be added with wave energy converters.
    4. It will assist the development of advanced control strategies for the wind turbines that might be used to stabilise the platform in very energetic ocean conditions.

    With the platform being of a relatively small scale (1:140, around 0.8m in width) and able to demonstrate similar motions as a full scale prototype (at around 50m), Caitlin’s prototype will allow the University to avoid expensive testing facilities in Europe or China by completing research locally – and on campus.

    Where may Caitlin’s research lead in the future?

    This research and its application will provide guidance to floating offshore wind turbine developers on the design of floating platforms.

    In particular, how to optimise the design to achieve the most cost-effective solution as floating wind is more expensive than land-based wind energy.

    Thank you to Caitlin and lead researcher, Dr Nataliia Sergiienko from the School of Mechanical Engineering, whose research interests include ocean wave energy, offshore wind energy and aerospace engineering.
    Other researchers involved: Professor Ben Cazzolato, Mr Leandro Souza Pinheiro da Silva and Dr Boyin Ding.

    About Caitlin

    23 June is International Women in Engineering Day, celebrating the work and achievements of women engineers.  We sat down with Caitlin to find out why she was inspired to pursue engineering, and her advice for any girls and women who are considering becoming the engineering leaders of tomorrow.

    Why did you choose your degree?  
    I chose to study engineering after enjoying and excelling at maths and physics during high school. I was always drawn to subjects like maths that had clear right or wrong answers, but I also liked learning how things worked and why things were designed the way they were, which led to my decision to study mechanical engineering. My grandpa was an electrical engineer and my sister studied pharmaceutical engineering, so I have been lucky to grow up with engineers around me to encourage me. It would also be amiss of me to not mention the box office hit, Chicken Run, on influencing me as a four year old on the importance of mechanical design and thrust! 

    Why did you choose the University of Adelaide?
    I chose the University of Adelaide after moving and beginning my studies at an interstate university, but returning to Adelaide to be closer to my family again. I found the University of Adelaide to have smaller class sizes with higher tutor to student ratios, and the course coordinators and lecturers were more approachable and available to help students. This suited my style of learning as it encouraged student involvement and benefited students willing to reach out and ask for help or extra assistance. 

    Where do you see yourself in the future?
    I will complete my studies this semester after taking a bit longer than the standard four years to finish my degree. I have accepted a position as a graduate mechanical engineer at Australian Naval Infrastructure, which was offered after completing an internship advertised through the University of Adelaide CareersHub. After gaining experience assisting in the delivery of the Osborne North Submarine Yard, I hope to progress my career by either pursuing project management in sustainable power and technology projects, or returning to the University of Adelaide to complete further studies in floating offshore wind. My dream job would be the project manager for the installation of a floating offshore wind turbine in South Australia. 

    And finally, do you have any advice for prospective female students?
    I have found it extremely challenging at times to be a woman in a typically male dominated degree, especially on occasions where I have felt ignored or disregarded. However, it is important to remember that having a point of difference to your peers is beneficial. If an entire team looks, sounds, and acts the same, and come from similar backgrounds and with similar experience, all their ideas are more likely to be the same. Bringing a different perspective and set of experiences to group work (which is always required in engineering) will improve performance and outcomes. 

    So, my advice to prospective female students is to have the confidence to speak up and contribute, even if it is daunting. For me, this required feigning confidence until it materialised! And diversity for improving outcomes does not only come from gender, so it is always worth listening to all people that look, sound and act different to yourself.  

    Tagged in Women in STEM, Latest News and Achievements, International Women in Engineering Day, electrical and mechanical engineering, Student achievement