The importance of utilizing renewable energy has dramatically increased in recent years. One resource that has great potential, especially in the state of Texas, is wind energy. Dr. Lance Manuel, CAEE Associate Professor and Fluor Centennial Teaching Fellow, recognizes the positive impact of this clean energy source and studies ways to improve the safety and reliability of wind turbines.
Wind turbines are designed to exploit the energy in the wind at any specified location. This exploitation is where civil engineers come in: they are challenged with developing the scientific knowledge base and engineering tools that enable designers to maximize performance at low cost, while considering complex loading situations such as extreme turbulence, high wind shear, wind storms, etc.
Manuel’s work concerns the modeling of inflow turbulence and the resulting response and performance of electricity-producing wind turbines. In support of his research, Manuel received a $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award, that has been supporting his research the last few years. The CAREER award is one of the “most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education,” according to the National Science Foundation. His award supports the study titled, “Model-Based Simulation of Wind Turbine Inflow Turbulence and Design Loads.” In addition, Manuel receives funding from Sandia National Laboratories and from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Boards’ Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program.
“Current design procedures in use for electricity-producing wind turbines”, says Manuel, “do not adequately consider how wind velocity fluctuations, or turbulence, affect loads on the large turbine blades that can be more than 200 feet long on today’s utility-scale machines.” His research team studies how inflow turbulence influences extreme loads on wind turbines. They also study onshore and offshore turbine sites and use computer simulations to determine how spatial patterns in turbulence affect turbine loads.
In July 2008, Manuel and a former MS student of his, Patrick Ragan, received a Best Journal Paper Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Technical Committee on Wind Energy. Their winning paper was titled, “Statistical Extrapolation Methods for Estimating Wind Turbine Extreme Loads.” The paper develops possible design procedures that will allow turbines to safely, efficiently, and economically produce electricity over their planned service lives. The paper's findings are being used in proposed modifications to a wind turbine design standard issued by the International Electrotechnical Commission.
In addition, to his research and classroom teaching, Manuel also understands the importance of engaging students of all ages with his wind turbine research. Along with an undergraduate student, he worked with a local middle school to help develop age-appropriate instructional materials for the classroom that meet Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements.
Since 2002, Manuel has also actively engaged undergraduate research assistants in his work through the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Equal Opportunity in Engineering Office’s Texas Research EXperience (TREX) program Graduates Linked with Undergraduates in Engineering (GLUE) program. He has also facilitated research internship opportunities for several of his students at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and at Sandia National Laboratories, both Department of Energy organizations which actively collaborate with Manuel in his work.