Funding Approved for New Floating Wind Turbine Concept


University of Texas at Dallas researcher Dr. Todd Griffith has received a $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to take his floating offshore wind technology to the next level. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) award provides support for his team to design and build a turbine prototype.

The new grant was part of $26 million in funding from ARPA-E for 13 projects to accelerate floating offshore wind turbine technologies through the Aerodynamic Turbines, Lighter and Afloat, with Nautical Technologies and Integrated Servo-Control (ATLANTIS) program.

The Department of Energy estimates that state and federal waters along the U.S. coasts and the Great Lakes could generate twice the amount of energy generated by all of the nation’s electric power plants combined. However, one of the biggest barriers to harvesting that energy has been the high cost of deploying wind turbines in deeper water, where floating platforms are required. Griffith’s project aims to lower the cost and overcome challenges with installation and connecting to existing energy grids with underwater cables.

“A traditional turbine design is great for land, and it can make sense offshore in shallow waters, but when you build in deep water in the ocean, you need a totally new design,” said Griffith.

Griffith’s design is radically different from a traditional three-blade horizontal axis wind turbine. It is called a vertical axis wind turbine and has vertical blades and axis of rotation, rather than horizontal, and looks more like an upended eggbeater than a pinwheel. The platform, which is smaller than traditional platforms, sits partly above the ocean’s surface and partly below, like a ship. It is attached to the sea floor with cables rather than anchored directly to the sea floor under ocean depths of at least 200 feet. The generator and controls are on the platform, providing greater stability and facilitating easier maintenance.

The turbine blades would rise between 600 feet and 700 feet above the ocean’s surface but could reach as high as 900 feet. Griffith said the turbines would not obstruct ocean views, because they would be at least 20 miles from the coast, past the horizon.

UT Dallas researchers are working with the University of Illinois and corporate partners Aquanis Inc., VL Offshore and XFlow Energy. 

In another project funded by the Department of Energy, Griffith is designing a turbine to be used closer to the shore with blades longer than the length of two football fields. The two-blade, downwind-facing design was modeled after palm trees to withstand storms and high winds.