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NMSU part of alliance to develop wind research facility

New Mexico State University's College of Engineering is part of a Texas consortium that has been awarded $2 million in test equipment to develop large-scale wind blade and component test facilities, accelerating the commercial availability of wind energy.



NMSU engineering students Zach Mills and Diego Benavidez inspect the 32 MW Ponnequin wind farm in northern Colorado last year. NMSU is now part of the Lone Star Wind Alliance, which will help accelerate the commercial availability of wind energy. (Photo by Robert Foster)

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman recently announced that Department of Energy has selected both the Lone Star Wind Alliance in Texas and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Partnership in Massachusetts to negotiate cooperative research and development agreements to design, build and operate new facilities to test the next generation of wind turbine blades. Facilities are expected to be operational in 2009.

The College of Engineering's Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) is part of the Lone Star Wind Alliance, which will build a coastal test facility in Ingleside, Texas, near Corpus Christi. The alliance also includes the University of Houston, the Texas General Land Office, Texas Workforce Commission, Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, University of Texas-Austin, West Texas A&M University, Montana State University, Stanford University, Old Dominion University, the Houston Advanced Research Center, BP, DOW, Huntsman and Shell Wind.

Blade testing is required to meet wind turbine design standards, reduce machine cost, and reduce the technical and financial risk of deploying mass-produced wind turbines. Growth in wind turbine size over the past two decades has outgrown the existing capabilities of the DOE-National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) National Wind Technology Center, which operates the only blade test facility in North America capable of performing full-scale testing of megawatt-scale wind turbine blades.

"While there are many acres of wind farms in New Mexico, the large-blade test facility needs to be located on the coast due to transportation constraints as ever-larger blades arrive for testing from around the globe," said IEE Wind Program Manager Robert Foster.

"We anticipate that both faculty and student researchers from NMSU will be involved with blade and turbine component research projects. Already this summer we have NMSU engineering and business students conducting internships with NREL's National Wind Technology Center and with the wind industry."

The IEE provides support for wind energy development, including resource assessment, feasibility studies, project implementation, training, and systems monitoring. IEE is monitoring wind resources at NASA's White Sands Test Facility, Fort Bliss and the NMSU Clovis Agricultural Experiment Station. The group has also conducted wind energy development projects and resource assessments for communities in Mexico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic, as well as in the U.S.

Additional capabilities in the College of Engineering contribute to NMSU's leadership in wind energy, including structural dynamics and control of wind turbines, materials behavior, aerodynamics, modeling and simulation, and associated sensing and signal processing. NMSU is well situated to conduct wind energy research; New Mexico is ranked seventh in the U.S. for wind power utilization, with 497 megawatts of installed capacity, including one of the country's fourth largest windfarms at 204 meagwatts near House.

"NMSU is dedicated to solving some of the technological challenges for gaining energy independence for the country," said College of Engineering Dean Steven Castillo. "We are very pleased to be part of the Lone Star Wind Alliance, which will play a large role in pushing wind energy forward for the country as part of a versatile, national portfolio of energy technologies."

The Texas and Massachusetts consortia were selected to enter into agreements with DOE's NREL to build facilities to test large wind blades, with an ultimate goal of testing blades up to 330 feet long. This capability will help the rapidly growing wind industry fulfill President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative that envisions up to 20 percent of U.S. electricity consumption to be supplied by wind energy.

Project costs of each test facility will total approximately $20 million. The DOE investment is subject to Congressional appropriations. The Lone Star Wind Alliance has pledged approximately $18 million from state and private sources for initial capital and startup costs.

U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., supported the joint plan to coordinate wind energy research technologies.