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Engineers Can Reduce Wind Energy Costs

A new maintenance technique developed by engineers from the University of Sheffield could end up making wind energy cheaper.

As published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, the new technique could allow engineers to predict when the bearings inside a wind turbine will fail by using ultrasonic waves to measure the load transmitted through the ball bearings. Developed by engineers from the University of Sheffield, the new method allows engineers to record the stress on the wind turbine, and forecast the remaining service life.

“This technique can be used to prevent unexpected bearing failures, which are a common problem in wind turbines,” said Professor Rob Dwyer-Joyce, co-author of the paper and Director of the Leonardo Centre for Tribology at the University of Sheffield. “By removing the risk of a loss of production and the need for unplanned maintenance, it can help to reduce the cost of wind energy and make it much more economically competitive.”

The problem behind this solution is one that is likely to invigorate engineers and very few others. According to the press release put out by the University of Sheffield, “when a bearing is subject to a load, its thickness is reduced by a very small amount due to elastic deformation, and the speed of sound is affected by the stress level in the material. Both these effects change the time of flight of an ultrasound wave through a bearing.”

This new method to determine a ball bearings failing point is the only way to measure the transmitted load through the bearing, and uses “a custom-built piezoelectric sensor mounted in the bearing to measure the time of flight and determine the load.”

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