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Sandia segmented morphing rotor blade design could enable 50MW offshore wind turbines with 200-meter blades

Sandia National Laboratories researchers are working on a new design for 200-meter blades that could enable offshore 50MW wind turbines. Sandia’s work on extreme-scale Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR) is funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program.

The team is led by the University of Virginia and includes Sandia and researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Corporate advisory partners include Dominion Resources, General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Vestas Wind Systems.

Sandia’s previous work on 13-MW systems uses 100-meter blades (328 feet) on which the initial SUMR designs are based. While a 50-MW horizontal wind turbine is well beyond the size of any current design, studies show that load alignment can significantly reduce peak stresses and fatigue on the rotor blades. This reduces costs and allows construction of blades big enough for a 50-MW system.

Most current US wind turbines produce power in the 1- to 2-MW range, with blades about 165 feet (50 meters) long, while the largest commercially available turbine is rated at 8 MW with blades 262 feet (80 meters) long.

The US has great offshore wind energy potential, but offshore installations are expensive, so larger turbines are needed to capture that energy at an affordable cost. Conventional upwind blades are expensive to manufacture, deploy and maintain beyond 10-15 MW. They must be stiff, to avoid fatigue and eliminate the risk of tower strikes in strong gusts. Those stiff blades are heavy, and their mass, which is directly related to cost, becomes even more problematic at the extreme scale due to gravity loads and other changes.

—Todd Griffith, lead blade designer on the project and technical lead for Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program.

Griffith said the new blades could be more easily and cost-effectively manufactured in segments, avoiding the unprecedented-scale equipment needed for transport and assembly of blades built as single units.

The exascale turbines would be sited downwind, unlike conventional turbines that are configured with the rotor blades upwind of the tower.

SUMR’s load-alignment is bio-inspired by the way palm trees move in storms. The lightweight, segmented trunk approximates a series of cylindrical shells that bend in the wind while retaining segment stiffness. This alignment radically reduces the mass required for blade stiffening by reducing the forces on the blades using the palm-tree inspired load-alignment approach.

Segmented turbine blades have a significant advantage in parts of the world at risk for severe storms, such as hurricanes, where offshore turbines must withstand tremendous wind speeds over 200 mph. The blades align themselves to reduce cantilever forces on the blade through a trunnion hinge near the hub that responds to changes in wind speed.

At dangerous wind speeds, the blades are stowed and aligned with the wind direction, reducing the risk of damage. At lower wind speeds, the blades spread out more to maximize energy production, Griffith said.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has set a goal of providing 20% of the nation’s energy from wind by 2030, as detailed in its recent Wind Vision Report.



That's a big wind turbine... Would they do onshore that big? I mean you could use huge ones and huge generators and power h2 plants or something where variable load is okay. I imagine a 50Mw swing would be rough, or even a 1000Mw swing if they had 20.

Or you could power ocean liners, or enable electric or FC ocean liners. But the battery bank would have to be huge to absorb enough energy for an EV trip.


Some years ago I was so incensed at the UK offshore wind program that I set up a blog about it, running the hopeless economics.

I don't set my views in stone though, and if the technology moves on, so do I.

That does not mean that the prior deployments were anything other than a vast waste of money, or that the specious justification given that that was what paid for further development was anything other than special pleading, as a a fraction of the money spent on premature deployment would have paid for far more R & D.

We are in a different ball game now though, and floating wind turbines and huge size, together with peak storage, as a heck of a lot of wind power happens in fairly short periods of time, via batteries and electrolysis coupled with hydrogen storage make the viability very different.


Reminds me of 420,000+ tonnes ships. How big can you go.

Longer wind turbine blades mounted on 500+ft towers, can also be very effective, in selected on shore ground places.

Equipped with appropriate de-icing, those huge wind turbines could be very effective on Labrador and Hudson Bay shores where wind quality, special on 500+ft towers, is very good.

Coupled with (existant and new) local Hydro facilities, no costly battery or FC storage would be required. A 50,000 mega-watt Hydro + 50,000 mega-watt wind network (equivalent to 100 NPPs) would be possible.


@ Dave
Many if not most new developments burn money. We learn from the mistakes. Without which nothing could be achieved.

Henry Gibson

Every official in the DOE who was involved in the plan to have the US supply 20 percent of its power from wind by 2030 should be required to own and operate their own wind-turbine system that supplies all of their power all of the time with the necessary land, batteries and electronics and conformance to Zoning and nuisance regulations.

They also should have sat at the sea-shore at low tide and demonstrated their impotence to their subordinates as king Canute is reported by one legend to have done. They may have failed to had British history Classes.

Co-generation, where there is one or more natural gas burning engine or turbine in each home or building or condominium and equipment to use the waste heat for cooling or heating will be far more cost effective and fast and more reliable in reducing carbon release than any other program at this moment. Excess heat can be stored for later use in various ways even as ice or molten salts as in solar systems or released. Batteries are well developed enough to store excess electricity when more heat is required or it can be pumped into the mains. GE had lots of excess battery production because they did not want to use much of their own production as they promised. GE could have bought Capstone turbine to produce a great combined unit since GE reneged on putting the batteries in their own locomotives and trucks.

Not one commercial building in natural gas areas should be allowed to not have a co-generation unit just as they are required to have low water flow fixtures.

Japan has just sent to sea a floating wind machine with a hydraulic transmission from MHI. ..HG..

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