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Engineers team up on floating turbines projects

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-08-09 09:55

Chinese and British engineers are teaming up to design a new floating wind turbine capable of weathering strong waves and storms far out at sea.

A team of academics at Manchester Metropolitan University led by fluid dynamics expert Qian Ling has received a 124,000-pound ($150,000) grant to develop computer models to test design methods for the structure.

Once that phase is complete, the team will fly out to Ningbo University in Zhejiang Province where engineers will construct a miniature replica of the turbine which will be tested in a wave tank.

The engineers hope to create a turbine that is both cost effective and hardy enough to weather adverse conditions on the open water. Floating turbines are buffeted about by wind and waves as they are not anchored to the sea bed, so designing a pontoon which relieves stress on the structure poses a stiff engineering challenge.

"Under extreme wave conditions such as during storms, floating platforms will undergo large movements and sometimes this movement is dangerous and leads to system damages," said Qian. "Therefore, we need to make sure the device can survive such storms with large waves."

The project is expected to take a year, with funding supplied through the United Kingdom government's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Both China and Britain have invested heavily in off shore wind technology, and vast farms of static turbines exist off the coast of both countries. However, it is difficult to lay foundations in deep water, so static off shore turbines can only be constructed in areas that benefit from a shallow continental shelf.

Turbines that are anchored by floating structures, instead of foundations, open up previously inaccessible waters to offshore wind farms.

Several companies around the world have been working on the technology, but only one has moved beyond the pilot phase.

Norwegian energy company Equinor constructed Hywind, the first commercial floating wind farm, off the coast of Scotland in 2017. In June this year, Danish energy-trading company Danske Commodities agreed to buy the power generated from the 30-megawatt wind farm for the next 20 years.

Qian's project and other UK link-ups mean floating farms may soon come to Chinese waters. In 2017, the Chinese government supplied a grant to researchers from Dalian University in China and the University of Exeter in the UK to explore the use of the technology.

Chen Bing, a researcher from Dalian University who co-leads the project, says that the sea around China has the potential to support the largest offshore energy market in the world, with up to 500 gigawatts of capacity, one third of which is only exploitable with floating installations.

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