First US floating wind turbine launched in Maine- with a patented Maine design

The VolturnUS was designed at the University of Maine

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

June 2nd, 2013 

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The launching of America’s first floating wind turbine, which is also the world’s first composite/concrete platform and the world’s first composite ocean windmill tower, included a christening of VolturnUS with members of the DeepCWind Consortum, Maine’s Congressional Delegation and project director, Dr. Habib Dagher. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Hundreds of people gathered on the banks of the Penobscot River at Cianbro in Brewer to witness the launching of the first floating offshore wind turbine in U.S. history. The crowd applauded and cheered after a crane slowly lowered the 90,000-pound turbine into the river.

“There are many firsts here today,” said Habib Dagher, Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “Not only is VolturnUS the first floating wind turbine in the US, it’s the first turbine tower to be completely made of composites, and the first concrete/ composite floating base in the world.”

The VolturnUS unit was assembled at Cianbro, an engineering construction company that partnered with the university to fabricate VolturnUS.

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Cianbro workers talk about the collaborative offshore wind turbine project, VolturnUS, that they worked on with UMaine that could bring 20,000 jobs to the state. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“Led by the University of Maine, this project represents the first concrete-composite floating platform wind turbine to be deployed in the world – strengthening American leadership in innovative clean energy technologies that diversify the nation’s energy mix with more clean, domestic energy sources,” said the Department of Energy (DOE) in a press release.

On June 2 the prototype began its journey to the coast of Castine. A crew from the Maine Maritime Academy began towing the structure 30 miles down the Penobscot River where it will be moored in 70 feet waters and hooked up to the grid with an underwater cable. The waters off Castine are ideal for a test site because the waves are about one-eighth the height of the waves in the Gulf of Maine where full-scale turbines will eventually be positioned.

The full-scale offshore wind VolturnUS turbines will be 600 feet— taller than the Washington Monument. A 747 jumbo jet could fit on a blade of one of the big turbines.

The goal for Dr. Dagher, who leads the offshore wind effort at UMaine, is to get the cost of offshore wind energy down so it competes, and eventually out competes, with energy generated from fossil fuels.

“In Europe offshore wind costs twice as much as wind energy harnessed on land. The purpose of VolturnUS is to bring that cost down. Our shared goal with the Department of Energy is to get the cost to ten cents a kilowatt-hour by 2020. It’s key to the whole project,” said Dagher. “VolturnUS brings down the cost to the point where it competes with fossil fuels.”

To achieve the cost effective goal Dagher’s team had to innovate and create a new floating offshore wind turbine and platform design.

“In Europe offshore wind turbines have a life of about twenty to thirty years. The VolturnUS has a hundred year life expectancy. That’s why we developed the concrete base,” said Dagher at the Offshore Wind Laboratory in the university’s composite center.

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Sen. Collins, Sen. King and Congressman Michaud spoke about an energy future based on electricity from VolturnUS. photo by du Houx

Other elements that make VolturnUS more competitive compared to other countries that are developing offshore wind technologies were incorporated into the final design of the 65-foot-tall turbine prototype, which is a one-eighth-scale version of a 6-megawatt full-scale turbine that will be deployed 20 miles off Maine’s coastline in 2016.

“It’s like a tri-marine boat. It floats on three outer arms and the frame carries the load of the turbine. Our engineers made sure it could “breathe” in a balanced way so as waves hit the structure it has the flexibility to take on some of that impact,” said the chief engineer in charge of offshore structural design, Antony Viselli, who has a team of drafters, modelers, and other engineers for the project that worked with Cianbro.

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VolturnUS 1:8, the University of Maine's patented offshore floating wind turbine, being towed down the Penobscot River to Castine on June 2, 2013, where it will be moored. This prototype will provide valuable information for the future construction of a full scale VoturnUS, which will be taller than the Washington Monument.

The design parameters for the UMaine team called for a plan where they had to develop a stable yet flexible platform and turbine, which could withstand the wind, waves and weather conditions of floating in deep waters of the coast. The entire unit also had to be compact enough to be launched from a shallow port, and cost competitive.

“It’s a balance where you have to meet the design criteria but also keeps your cost down. That was a hard nut to crack. The design makes it the most stable offshore floating wind turbine in the world. It can also be launched in a shallow port. And all the materials used in the fabrication are local which keeps the costs down significantly,” said Viselli, who has a civil engineering degree from UMaine and obtained his Masters working for Dagher. “Floating offshore wind turbines are a big item of research. Japan, Norway Portugal and Italy are developing the technology.”

During the launch in Brewer a Cianbro crane lifted the turbine. In the future the full-scale VolturnUS turbines will be assembled on the ocean.

“We’re going to manufacture them on land and assemble them on water,” said Dagher. “MackPoint is ideally suited.”

MackPoint is part of Eastport, one of Maine’s three deep-water ports.

In the most competitive countries large cranes lift these huge structures onto specially designed ships. Once over the desired location they drive their platform bases into the ocean floor with heavy drilling equipment and again use the cranes to lift the turbines into place. All the while they have to calculate environmental fluctuations in the ocean and air.

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Dr. Habib Dagher, who leads the offshore wind effort as director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center said VolturnUS brings down the cost of offshore wind to be competitive with fossil fuels. Behind Dagher are Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, Willy Ritch for U.S. Pingree, and the spokesperson for the university. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The VolturnUS floats. It has mooring lines with self-embedding anchors, like ships. It’s simply towed out to sea, drops its anchors and is ready to be plugged into the grid. If a turbine needs work, it can be towed back to shore, where repairs will be less costly.

“Compared to what Europeans are doing pounding a twenty foot diameter pile into the ocean bed it’s like micro surgery,” said Dagher.

With thirty local corporate partners that have been taking part in the fabrication and deployment of the technology Maine companies and UMaine expertise could lead America’s floating offshore wind development.

“We can keep the jobs here by using Maine technology, Maine materials, and Maine people. We can manufacture the hulls in Maine and ship them to the Mid-Atlantic States and other places,” said Dagher. “If we do this first and get ahead of the competition then we can sell the electricity first to the entire New England region. It could be another major natural resource we could export creating thousands of jobs.”

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“It’s like a tri-marine boat. It floats on three outer arms and the frame carries the load of the turbine,” said the chief engineer in charge of offshore structural design of VolturnUS, Antony Viselli. Here he joins some of those who worked on the project signing the hull before the turbine’s launch. Photo by Ramona du Houx

State officials predict that a full scale VolturnUS wind farm could bring $20 billion of private investment to the state and create at least 20 thousands of jobs.

“They will really become cost effective when we begin to manufacture them like boats in larger numbers,” said Dagher.

The long-term project—

Researchers at UMaine have been working on developing offshore wind technologies as soon as the first data came in about Maine’s offshore wind potential.

“We have 156 gigawatts of offshore wind within fifty miles of our coast. That’s the equivalent of 156 nuclear power plants worth of wind energy blowing off the coast of Maine,” said Dagher.

In 2009 The Director of the Department of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu visited the university to see the research underway and said, “I’m impressed.”

He was so impressed that after an extensive review the DOE gave the first of many grants, so far totaling $12 million, to the university to continue its research and development offshore wind project. Previously, Dr. Chu had advised Dagher to visit Norway, with Governor John Baldacci, to see the world’s first floating offshore wind turbine. That Governor’s trade mission lead to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Norwegian company to share the technology with UMaine. While the Norwegians continue to pursue their designs, and have permits for a prototype to be deployed off Boothby, UMaine developed the VolturnUS, which is significantly different.

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CEO of Cianbro Peter Vigue, the company that is working with UMaine to produce offshore wind turbines shakes hands with Dr. Habib Dagher whose team invented the design of the VolturnUS- which could change Maine's economy like the Industrial Revolution did. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“The Norwegian design requires a 300 foot draft so you couldn’t really launch it from shore and it requires heavy lifting equipment, which adds to the cost significantly,” said Dagher. “VolturnUS is easily fabricated dockside and only needs thirty feet of draft, that’s a big deal. And launching VolturnUS will be as easy as launching a ship. We will be able to tow a unit out with a tugboat at two miles an hour, and it will be twenty miles offshore in ten hours.”

In 2012 the DOE gave the university a larger grant of $4 million grant to help fund the installation of a pair of 6-megawatt turbines off Monhegan Island by 2017, which would create an operational wind farm called Aqua Ventus I.

By 2030 about 170 turbines will be positioned about twenty miles offshore in deepwater where the winds are the strongest and where the structures won’t be visible from land. The university has a team of top biologist conducting environmental tests to make sure marine wild life is not disturbed by the turbines presence.

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VolturnUS 1:8 being launched. photo by Ramona du Houx

“They have been monitoring Monhegan so we know what the wildlife patterns are now,” said Dagher. “That way we can see if or how our turbines effects the wildlife once they are deployed. So we can take appropriate action to protect their environment.”

A 6-megawatt unit’s rotor diameter will be one and a half football fields tall and produce fifty megawatts of electrical energy.

The DOE $4 million grant should lead to others as it makes the composite center a finalist for up to $47 million more in funding. The VolturnUS project is one of seven sponsored by the DOE under a $168 million grant program. Three are floating, four are fixed, and this is the first to be put into use. The grants would be awarded during the different phases of the project. Also the state of Maine will be allocating voter approved bond funds to the university for the fabrication of the Mohegan turbines.

Long before the DOE’s involvement the Baldacci administration saw the potential of offshore wind creating jobs and helping to lesson Maine’s dependency on oil. To kick-start the project the Maine Technology Institute awarded the university multiple research and development grants.

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The VolturnUS 1:8 comfortably resting in the water. The full size offshore wind VolturnUS turbines will be over 600 feet tall— taller than the Washington Monument. The big units will be fabricated onshore and assembled on the water. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Then by executive order Baldacci created The Ocean Energy Task Force, which included experts in the field, lawmakers and environmentalists. In 2010 one of the laws they developed, with the approval of the Public Utilities Commission, set standards and a goal for 5,000 MW of offshore electricity to be harnessed by 2030. The task force recommendations also streamlined Maine’s wind regulatory permitting process.

“The Ocean Energy Task Force worked for a year and a half to develop the five gigawatts by 2030 plan, that’s the same as harnessing five nuclear power plants worth of energy by 2030,” said Dagher. “And the legislature’s vote was unanimous.”

In edition the state established new requirements in 2008 for the Maine Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) which now requires each competitive electricity provider to supply 10 percent of their retail sales from new renewable capacity resources by 2017.

Stability in government policies is paramount for investors. Having the entire Congressional Delegation support the project has been a millstone and helped with obtaining DOE grants.

“We’re very grateful for the bipartisan support,” said Dagher.

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It’s best to learn to walk before you run—

The VolturnUS took time to develop and showcases the ingenuity, foresight, dedication, and professionalism of Dagher’s team.

“It took six years looking at designs, optimizing, modeling, and testing different units. We tested a 1/50th scale unit extensively in the water,” said Dagher. “Finally we knew that we had found the solution.

A 1/50 scale turbine is about the size of a person.

“The testing work at the 1/50th scale determined which kind of design was best for the life of the turbine, it kept the turbine in a manner of speaking from experiencing sea sickness,” said Viselli.

That stability is key for a platform design that is predicted to last a hundred years at sea. Data collected from sensors on the Castine based prototype will be used to implement any design alterations to VolturnUS. The mini-turbine will be deployed for the summer and then brought in for more evaluation. It will be launched again in the winter.

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A Cianbro employee helps position VolturnUS floating offshore wind turbine for its launch. photo by Ramona du Houx

“In the winter the waves get up around three to five feet and those will be interesting wave events for the structure,” said Viselli.

Researches intend to use this prototype for multiple tests before producing the bigger units.

“It’s best to learn to walk before you run,” said Dagher.

His step-by-step approach has been successful so far. He attributes that success to his team of about 140 researchers, many of them are students, and the university’s partnerships with different organizations, businesses and government enteritis. “We’re on the verge of a new era of renewable energies and technologies – ours will help get us there. Everybody here believed in it and in the future of the technology for our nation,” said Dagher. “We are like the people who built the first pulp and paper mill in the state. When it was built people couldn’t’ imagine what would happen.”

A UMaine student won a competition to name the turbine VolturnUS.

“Volt is for the electricity generated, turn for the turbine, and US, for the United States,” said Dagher. “He had to win when he told me that Voltunus also happens to be the name for the Roman God of the eastern winds.”

Offshore wind represents a large, untapped energy resource for the United States, offering over 4,000 gigawatts of clean, domestic energy potential – four times the nation’s current total generation capacity. According to a recent report commissioned by the Energy Department, a U.S. offshore wind industry that takes advantage of this abundant domestic resource could support up to 200,000 manufacturing, construction, operation and supply chain jobs across the country and drive over $70 billion in annual investments by 2030.

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Sen. Collins christens VolturnUS. The University of Maine’s patented technology is the culmination of more than six years of collaborative research and development conducted by the UMaine-led DeepCwind Consortium. The DeepCwind research program is a unique public-private partnership funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation-Partners for Innovation, the Maine Technology Institute, the state of Maine, the University of Maine and more than 30 industry partners. Photo by Ramona du Houx

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graphics and photos by Ramona du Houx