A researcher at the University of Strathclyde has won a prestigious fellowship to explore ways of reducing the costs and risks of bearing related wind and tidal turbine failures.

Dr Edward Hart, a Research Associate in Strathclyde’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, has received the Brunel Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

The award will enable him to investigate failures in wind and tidal turbine main-bearings, an operations-critical component which supports the entire turbine rotor during operation. He will examine the underlying causes which lead them to fail and will assess potential solutions with respect to turbine design and operation.

The fellowship is worth £165,000 over three years.

Dr Hart said: “Wind turbine main-bearings are failing more frequently than might be expected. Despite this, they have received less research scrutiny than other components of turbine drivetrains, yet this problem could cost individual offshore windfarm millions of pounds each year; with tidal turbines expected to manifest similar issues in the future.

“All the evidence we have at this stage suggests the main-bearing experiences highly variable, constantly fluctuating, loading which deviates significantly from conventional experience and design assumptions. In a gas or coal power station, while some variations will be present, generally the loads experienced by rotor support bearings remain fairly constant; however, wind turbines are enormous structures with long and flexible blades which interact with complex and turbulent winds. Generated loads are therefore equally complex.

“We’ll be exploring the fundamental science to establish what actually happens in these systems, identifying why they fail, what can be done and also assessing the role current designs and turbine control systems play in premature failures.

“The solution may not be to redesign the turbines themselves, but to operate them differently or better predict when issues may occur. A central aim is to reduce the costs involved; a turbine failure can mean a lengthy shutdown, leading to significant loss of revenue, and the need for expensive heavy lifting vessels to allow main-bearing replacement.” 

Dr Hart obtained his PhD at Strathclyde through the University’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Wind and Marine Energy Systems. On finishing, he was awarded an EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) Doctoral Prize which allowed him to begin working independently on main-bearing focused research, work which forms the foundations of the current fellowship project.

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 awards around 35 postgraduate Fellowships and Scholarships a year, for advanced study and research in science, engineering, the built environment and design.

The Commission counts 13 Nobel Laureates, seven holders of the Order of Merit and four Presidents of the Royal Society among its alumni.