Tufts engineers receive a scholarship to study offshore wind energy infrastructure

A group of Tufts faculty members and outside researchers recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their project, entitled “Multi-Domain, Multi-Scale, Policy-Aware Digital Twin for Offshore Wind Energy Infrastructure.” Work on this project is scheduled to officially start in January 2023.

The Principal Investigator for this project is Babak Moaveni, Professor in the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Moaveni is supported by two of Tufts’ co-PIs: Anna Haensch, a senior data scientist at Tufts’ Data Intensive Studies Center, and Usman Khan, an associate professor in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Computer Science. The third Co-PI is Hamed Ebrahimian, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Haensch outlined the research the team will be conducting in the coming months.

“We take a broad approach to investigating the structural condition and maintenance of offshore wind farms,” ​​Haensch wrote in an email to the Daily. “We propose a method to build ‘digital twins’ of wind turbines so that we can track the health of these giant structures as they withstand high-intensity wind and wave events, as well as the corrosion, stress and fatigue that occurs throughout life .”

Moaveni explained the concept of digital twins.

“This integration process – the model with data – we call digital twinning,” he told the Daily. “So the model represents a system, but it’s not a live model unless you have data. [For example]when you attach sensors to your wind turbine and collect the data from the sensors and combine it with a model, it becomes a live model or ‘digital twin’.”

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This project advances the Biden administration’s commitment to improving renewable energy sources in the United States. Eric Hines, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who directs Tufts’ offshore wind energy graduate program and is one of the principal investigators on this project, described how it could contribute to the development of clean energy.

“We are developing an approach to developing full digital twins for the US offshore wind fleet, which the Biden-Harris administration plans to expand to 30 GW by 2030. That’s about 2,000 offshore wind turbines the size of Boston’s Hancock Tower.” Hines wrote in an email to the Daily. “These turbines will be the foundation of our renewable energy infrastructure on the East Coast, and we need to have quality systems in place to monitor their vital signs from day one.”

Other collaborators on the project are six Tufts faculty members from disciplines such as engineering, mathematics and public health. Moaveni explained how working with people from non-engineering backgrounds helps differentiate this project from previous wind turbine projects.

“Now we have a few projects just on the digital twin of wind turbines, but with wind turbines the decision making is also very sensitive to policy, safety and other things that we as engineers are not always involved in. … So what we’ve been proposing here is, can we factor all of this into our optimal decision-making?” Moaveni said.

The team will also include international staff from countries such as Norway, Denmark and the UK. Moaveni explained why the help of international collaborators is particularly helpful for offshore wind energy research.

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“We have a very strong collaboration with an international team. … This [international] Institutes are more advanced, the offshore wind energy [business] is more advanced in Europe because there are many offshore wind farms in the North Sea,” said Moaveni. “But the US is just beginning to build up its fleet of offshore wind turbines.”

Despite having a team of qualified employees, Haensch expects that the project will present some difficulties as the subject matter is complicated.

“This is an incredibly interdisciplinary project with many interconnected components,” she wrote. “The turbine system itself is a complex mechanical object and the way multiple turbines in a wind farm interact adds to that complexity. … Once we add the human factors and politics, we have a truly multidisciplinary problem.”

Despite these anticipated challenges, Hines shared his excitement at working with such a diverse group of employees.

“Tufts is a rare environment where you can bring together engineers, data scientists, humanities scholars, mathematicians and policy experts to work together on a project like this,” Hines wrote. “We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to work towards a common goal with high caliber colleagues from all these backgrounds!”

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