LENS Diagram

Committed to Wind

University Research Aids Development of Lake Erie Wind Farm

Wind TurbinePHOTO: Michael F. McElroy

If all goes according to plan, the country’s first offshore freshwater wind farm will be erected in Lake Erie at the end of 2018. And if you wonder how the six 479-foot-tall windmill-like turbines will be anchored to the lake bed 65 feet below the surface, well, David Zeng, PhD, could tell you.

The chair of Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Civil Engineering played a critical role in devising the plan to secure the turbines to withstand hazards caused by the formation and movement of ice.

“It’s a pretty challenging environment out there [and required] a very significant engineering project,” said Zeng, the Frank H. Neff Professor. He also is developing a plan for a system of sensors to monitor the structures once they’re built about 8 to 10 miles north and west of downtown Cleveland.

The work underscores Case Western Reserve’s long commitment to wind power.

Headshot of David Zeng, professor

David Zeng, professor

In 2010, Case Western Reserve was among the first universities to install a wind turbine for research on campus, and has since installed and also operates two other turbines near Interstate 90 in suburban Euclid.

Though their primary purpose is research, the land-based turbines generate electricity for both the university campus and manufacturing companies that are partners in the project, said David Matthiesen, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Ohio Wind Energy Research and Commercialization Center, which is based at the university.

The turbines also have produced planning data that provided crucial information for the Lake Erie project about wind speeds, said Lorry Wagner, president of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), the organization that has managed planning for the wind farm.

Headshot of David Matthiesen, associate professor

David Matthieson, associate professor

LEEDCo has been awarded $10.7 million by the U.S. Department of Energy and is eligible for an additional $40 million when it reaches regulatory and engineering milestones, Wagner said.

As for how the turbines will be anchored, picture a giant steel bucket placed upside down on the lake floor with the turbine shaft rising from it above the waves. The bucket was designed specifically for offshore wind turbines. Once it’s in place, the water will be suctioned out, creating a vacuum that will pull it into the floor without drilling or pile-driving. That process is faster and easier than the traditional method of drilling into bedrock.

And Zeng’s role? He led the soil analysis that showed the turbine base indeed could be secured on the lake floor and ran the computer simulation, demonstrating that the foundation could withstand the ice that will inevitably push against the tower.

—Jim Sweeney

Standing Tall

Case Western Reserve was one of the first universities to install a wind turbine for research on campus. Funding came from the Ohio Third Frontier program, the U.S. Department of Energy, the university and industrial partners. It now operates three wind turbines.

Location: Along Adelbert Road near the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center
Year installed: 2010
Generating capacity: 100 kilowatts
Height: 156 feet*

Location: Near Interstate 90 in an industrial section of the city of Euclid
Year installed: 2011
Generating capacity: 225 kilowatts
Height: 143 feet*

Location: Near Interstate 90 in an industrial section of the city of Euclid
Year installed: 2012
Generating capacity: 1 megawatt (1,000 kilowatts)
Height: 318 feet*

*Height is from the base to the top of an upright blade.

rendering of wind turbines in the distance in Lake ErieIMAGE: Courtesy of LEEDCO

A rendering of the turbines planned for the wind farm in Lake Erie.

The six turbines planned for the wind farm in Lake Erie are expected to have a generating capacity of 20.7 megawatts, enough to power 6,000 to 8,000 homes. Each one will be 479 feet tall from the lake bed to the tip of the blade.

The university’s involvement is not limited to the wind farm or its own turbines. David Matthiesen, PhD, associate professor, and Matthew Willard, PhD, associate professor—both in the Department of Material Sciences and Engineering—have started a company, FeNix Magnetics, to license patented technology, that Matthiesen invented, from Case Western Reserve. The new magnetic material does not use costly rare-Earth materials and could lead to better power-converting magnets in turbines and electric cars, Matthiesen said.

Black and white photo of a late 19th century wind turbinePHOTO: The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

It’s only appropriate that Cleveland makes more wind-power history. In 1888, Charles Brush, best known for inventing street lighting, built a 60-foot wind turbine to power his mansion on Euclid Avenue. It’s easy to imagine that Brush, a onetime trustee of Adelbert College, a predecessor to Case Western Reserve, would have been proud to see the university carry on his work.