c313b14596126a21-WINDPOWERDr. Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center (AEWC) at the University of Maine, Photo by Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

October 19, 2009

Dr. Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center (AEWC) at the University of Maine, said the university is building a new lab to explore the use of robotics in the manufacture of turbine blades.

It’s another major step along the path that is advancing Maine’s expertise in wind development.

The AEWC lab does cutting-edge work in composite technologies. Since the discovery of the wind potential sitting off Maine’s coasts, Dagher has been a force promoting wind-energy development in the state.

“It was like discovering oil,” said Dagher. “With the equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants sitting in the Gulf of Maine and knowing we can develop the technologies here to build platforms and windmills here has given us momentum. We plan to get 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind and 3,000 megawatts of onshore wind by 2020. The key is to build these structures in Maine.”

The AEWC Center specializes in applying composite resins to make structures “bigger better lighter and stronger. The maintenance of composites is easier with less corrosion, and the structures are more durable,” said Dagher. “Maine could lead the world with better windmill composite technologies. We are developing the expertise and knowhow, so people will come from all over the world to work, see, and learn about wind power, in Maine. We are building an offshore research center here, connected to our lab. Our objective is to establish a research triangle.”

Composite technologies are currently being tested at AEWC on windmill components. This technology will progress wind-energy development because older windmills have notable aging problems and are costly to up keep.

“We know the problems and issues that have surrounded wind energy in the past. That’s why we’ve developed new designs to address those issues. That is what our research is all about — fixing problems. We have solutions,” said Dagher. “Look at where the Wright Brothers started, and here we are with composite technology in aviation. Wind is no different.”

In September the Department of Conservation and the State Planning Office held public meetings in five coastal communities to inform the public about the state’s offshore windmill plans and to get public input.

“We have a major program to harness the offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine. Our plan calls for five gigawatts of energy, which would be the equivalent of five nuclear power plants of offshore wind — beyond the horizon. The platforms would be built 20 miles off the coast. Nobody will see them, because of the curvature of the earth. The structures won’t change the beauty of coastal Maine,” said Dagher.

Photo: of Dr. Dagher in Germany on the recent trade mission focused upon clean energy

“To give you an example of how big these structures are, the Washington memorial is 333 feet; the windmill towers would be 500 feet; 300 feet would be underwater. The blades will be 107 feet. They will be placed on floating platforms. Our technology will go into the structures.”

Dagher led a Maine delegation to Norway to visit the world’s first floating, offshore windmill in deep water. He, Governor John Baldacci, and staff from Sen. Collins’ office viewed the structure from a boat. While there, Dagher, on behalf of UMaine, and the governor signed a letter of intent with StatoilHydro to share research and development in wind technology.

After StatoilHydro and UMaine complete an initial feasibility study, test turbines will be built in the 2012–2014 time frame. If they prove successful, a full offshore wind farm could be a reality in the Gulf of Maine by 2016, with additional farms by 2020.

“Norway is the only country that has constructed the world’s first deepwater floating offshore windmill. StatoilHydro’s windmill will produce 2.13 megawatts. Rather than reinvent what they have learned, we have partnered with them to help bring the technology to the next level,” said Dagher.

AEWC composite test wind mill developed at the center.

AEWC composite test wind mill developed at the center.

By no means is Maine the first to develop windmill technologies, but if Dagher gets his wish, we may very well become experts in offshore wind development and windmill structural development.

“There are three European countries ahead of us in creating wind energy: Germany, Spain, and Denmark. Out of 150,000 jobs created in the wind industry, the majority of them are in those countries, because they make the wind turbines there. That’s why building the turbines in Maine will be huge for the state,” said the professor. “If we build the five offshore wind farms, we could create 15,000 jobs. It’s a $20 billion dollar investment in the state. To give you a comparison, the East-West Highway was projected to bring in two billion. This wind project would be the largest construction project in the history of Maine, as well as the largest single job creator.”

Since 2001 the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center has expanded product lines for 43 existing companies, improved products of 30 Maine companies, and have helped with the creation of 12 new Maine companies.

“We have a wonderful team here. A hundred and fifty people work here, from scientists and engineers in 20 different academic departments on campus. We work very closely with industry. This year we received the Champion for Economic Development award through the Maine Development Foundation. We worked with over 80 companies over the last seven years, helping them develop and grow,” said Dagher.

AEWC works with companies to solve problems they encounter, as they happen.

“The center is successful because of the relationships we build with industry. We work closely with businesses to understand their needs and identify problems. Then we come back to the lab and solve the problems. These are practical problems in the real world that we help solve, so we aren’t dealing with abstract theories — we’re solving problems. The interaction between the lab and industry is the key,” said Dagher.

Dagher sees the potential of Maine companies becoming involved in building windmills here in the state. A new consortium has been created called the Maine Wind Industry Initiative, bringing together the public and private sectors that make up the industry in the state to hasten that potential.

The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development set goals of having at least 2,000 megawatts of installed wind-power capacity in Maine by 2015 and at least 3,000 megawatts by 2020, including at least 300 megawatts from offshore projects.

“It will take ten to twenty years to develop the offshore and onshore windmill plan fully. There are many partners we need to work with. Last summer the governor, the congressional delegation and I met with the Secretary of Energy, Chu, in Washington, DC and discussed this plan. He was receptive,” said Dagher.

More about the center —

Dr. Dagher promotes the center in a friendly manner and emphasizes that the work being conducted at AEWC is of the highest standards. As a scientist he understands the needs of his researchers; as a director he knows how to describe the center’s successes to the world. His advocacy and expertise has made AEWC stand out as a world-class research institution and has enabled the center to win grants.

“What makes us unique is we also introduce natural fibers into our resins, and we incorporate old and new technologies together. Like the steel bridge, which has been made stronger with composites. Or the bridge-in-a-backpack, which has concrete reinforcement,” he said. “We work on short-term to long-term projects, problems that may need solutions next week or down the road in five years.”

Looking for solutions outside the box is part of his nature, which he instills in personnel at the center.

“Right now some of our researchers are looking into the nanocellulosic crystal microstructures in wood. We are developing a better way for resins to adhere to surfaces. The nanotechnology we are working on should create more service area for resins to bond to, making structures even stronger, more crack-resistant and flexible,” said Professor Dagher.

“We are also working with the chemistry lab to extract cellulose out of wood structures for pharmaceuticals and bioethanol. We need to know how much you extract from wood before you lose too many properties of the tree.”

Dagher is scheduled to speak to President Obama’s Green Energy Cabinet about the work conducted at AEWC.