Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult has established three Research Hubs creating strategic networks with UK’s leading universities that are able to address key offshore renewable energy challenges through building a stronger UK research offering.
The Powertrain Research Hub, for example, is a £2.4million, five-year research partnership between Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the University of Sheffield and the University of Warwick. The objectives are to improve reliability, advance condition monitoring and advance the development of next generation turbines.
The Catapult’s powertrain team is at the forefront of powertrain testing, validation, innovation and research. Its experienced powertrain specialists, researchers and project management teams work alongside the universities and industry clients to enhance and validate their advanced and complex wind turbine powertrain systems.
The research projects cover a broad range of subjects across mechanical and electrical disciplines, from modelling the impact of wind loading on bearing life, through to investigating how humidity effects power module performance and degradation. In one example project, PhD students at the University of Sheffield’s Leonardo Centre have been developing ultrasonic techniques to measure lubrication in a wind turbine gearbox bearing.
Current sensors measure temperature, torque, and sometimes vibration or acoustic emissions. These provide useful indications of machine performance but cannot give information about what is happening inside a bearing. The novel technique, developed with the University of Sheffield, is demonstrating that ultrasonic pulses can be sent through a bearing raceway to directly monitor roller-raceway interfaces. The measurements of ultrasonic reflection from each roller can give an indication of lubricant film thickness and the presence of grease or oil.
These ultrasonic sensors have been installed on the high-speed shaft bearing of a 600 kW turbine in the Barnesmore field in Ireland and early results have been promising. Understanding how a bearing is lubricated helps inform the design of lubricants and lubrication systems and measuring the amount of solid contact in a bearing helps indicate the likelihood of wear and fatigue failure.
With bearing failures in wind turbines amongst the most common in the industry, this research is critical to improve functionality and advance the next generation of turbine technology.
 Three RHs are operating. These are: the Wind Blades Research Hub (WBRH), established in 2017, is aligned to the Blades Knowledge Area team; the Electrical Infrastructure Research Hub (EIRH), established in 2018, is aligned with the Electrical Infrastructure team; the Powertrain Research Hub (PRH), established in 2019, is aligned with the powertrain knowledge area.