Purdue researchers look to shrimp for inspiration on floating wind turbine anchors

The team is using 3D printers and cement paste to design more resilient and less ecologically disruptive anchors.

Centered author Katie Pyzyk is on vacation. Today’s newsletter features reporting by Kari Lydersen and was written and compiled by Dan Haugen.

A team of researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University is working with clean energy startups on developing 3D-printed anchors for floating offshore wind turbines. The design is inspired by the surprising resilience of arthropod shells such as those from crabs, shrimp and lobsters. More after today’s headlines...

🌡️  EFFICIENCY: University of Michigan researchers have developed an autonomous HVAC system they say could provide more comfort with less energy and completely do away with wall-mounted thermostats. Their study is published in the July issue of Building and Environment.

💪  RESILIENCY: Cleantech Open continues a series of free webinars Wednesday to help cleantech entrepreneurs navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The session starts at 1 p.m. Central and will feature Michael Eckhardt of the Chasm Institute and Andrew Green of Broad Reach Growth

🏢  CAREERS: Cleveland, Ohio, power management company Eaton Corp. has been named one of the top employers by Women Engineer, a career-guidance and recruitment magazine for women in engineering, computer science and information technology, the Cleveland Business Journal reports

***SPONSORED LINK: Coping and Building Better in This Moment is the first in a summer series of town hall conversations from Elevate Energy. Register on Eventbrite for the June 18, 4-5 p.m. event and join the discussion.***

Now, back to those arthropod-inspired wind turbine anchors...

THE CHALLENGE: Floating turbines could greatly expand the scope of offshore wind, generating power more efficiently where winds are stronger, and where turbines are less visible from land. Anchors to secure floating turbines to the seafloor are typically made from steel, which costs a lot and can only be manufactured in places with well-established steel fabrication supply chains.

THE INNOVATION: A team of researchers at Purdue is experimenting with using 3D printing to create anchors made from multiple thin layers with a honeycomb or similar pattern. Stacked together, the layers create a structure similar to the shell of an arthropod — like the shrimp, crab or lobster — whose fragile material is surprisingly resilient because the structure prevents cracks from spreading. 

“It’s a pattern that nature found that is very efficient for improving the mechanical properties for what otherwise is a very brittle material” — concrete, said Purdue civil engineering professor Pablo Zavattieri

The precision and flexibility available with 3D printing means the structure can be designed so the weaknesses inherent in the connection points between layers essentially become strengths, the researchers explained. Cracks are dispersed so that the energy causing them dissipates and fissures stop. 

THE BACKSTORY: Rick Damiani, founder and principal of the Floating Wind Technology Company, one of the startups involved in the project, previously worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory with Jason Cotrell, CEO of RCAM Technologies, the startup working with Purdue on the 3D printing portion of the project. Damiani with NREL colleagues developed a floating offshore wind platform called SpiderFLOAT unveiled last year. 

Photo: Researchers Jan Olek, Jeffrey Youngblood, Reza Moini and Pablo Zavattieri

THE POTENTIAL: The anchor would gently meld into the seafloor by harnessing water pressure and a suction effect, avoiding the ecological impact and cost of driving piles into the seafloor for fixed wind turbines. The anchor would also be less ecologically disruptive than other floating turbine anchors, the researchers said. 

“The preliminary work is very encouraging,” explained Jan Olek, Purdue’s James H. and Carol H. Cure Professor of Civil Engineering. “We’re seeing that we can redirect propagation of the cracks … and if the interfaces are organized in space in such a way that it’s a convoluted path for the crack to follow, it takes more energy to actually form the crack.”

THE FUTURE: The team noted that 3D printing is also being explored for onshore wind turbines, offshore oil and gas infrastructure, and buildings more generally. They developed the printing technique proposed for the anchors first using cement paste, and they are now in the process of scaling up to concrete, which is a mixture of cement mortar and coarse aggregates.

There is still a long way to go before the anchors may actually be launched in the ocean, including testing for stability and other attributes in the lab, then large-scale testing in the environment. 

You can read more about the project at the Energy News Network.

Help us cover how Midwest startups and growing companies are helping to fight climate change and other daunting problems. Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.


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