back to article Modeling software spins up plans for floating wind turbines

A novel offshore wind turbine design has been waiting for the right modeling software to come along to help make it a reality, and scientists reckon they've finally built it. Wind turbines are typically built on rigid towers. The aforementioned offshore design would employ floating platforms able to access wind power in deeper …

  1. JimmyPage
    Thumb Up

    Now this is more like it

    I wonder if a series of these beasts could also double as guides in shipping lanes ?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Now this is more like it

      Hi there, big buoy.

      1. Notas Badoff

        Re: Now this is more like it

        Guy lines like that make my head spin.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "US Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management"

    Isn't that a bit self-contradictory?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When you're the US government, it's all interior.

    2. jake Silver badge

      When you need a piece of the pie to justify your own existence, everything becomes a part of your territory. Have you not extensively studied government? May I suggest you start with the excellent documentary "Yes, Minister" for how it works on your side of the pond? Us Yanks learned from the best.

  3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Rickover rolling over.

    I think this is a story that demonstrates that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

    I have a plan* for a compact, 500MW floating power station that could be positioned in or offshore, or moved to where there's local demand. It could operate regardless of weather conditions, providing continuous, low carbon energy. And I don't need any superdupercomputers, just some cheap CGI.

    Ok, so there would be some weather concerns, but storms would affect floating windmills as well. As would storm surges, especially if anchors drag, cables snap etc. But my plan is tried and tested. So the SS Jacona, from 1931, or better yet, the MH-1A that used to power Panama. Or more recently, the Akademik Lomonosov that started operation in December 2019, and by May the next year, had delivered 47.3 GWh of zero carbon energy. Or enough to make nearly every UK green's head explode. Oh, and also provides hot water, and desalination for drinking water.

    And then of course there's the 8(?) Astute class semi-floating nuclear power plants the UK's built, or is building. So why are we still tilting at windmills, when far more reliable, tried and tested alternatives are available? It would be far more productive to invest in SMRs instead because we've known those work for decades.

    *By plan, I mean dear HMG, get the feck on with it. Not anything that would involve visits from MIBs on account of SMR and naval reactor designs being a rather sensitive subject.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Rickover rolling over.

      Because the instant you mention the word 'nuclear' the green party types explode with more FUD than a m$ press release from the 2000's

      Remember we had to remove the word nuclear from nuclear magnetic resonance imaging machines because people saw the word nuclear and went "EEEKK"

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Rickover rolling over.

        Remember we had to remove the word nuclear from nuclear magnetic resonance imaging machines because people saw the word nuclear and went "EEEKK"

        Argghhh.. please don't mention NMR. Especially after watching NileRed making hotsauce out of rubber gloves, and showing off his new toy-

        https://www.nanalysis.com/nmready-60e

        which is starting to look like it might be affordable, and thus got bumped up my iWant list. Mostly because I still want spectrograms of Marmite, and haven't convinced anyone with a spectrometer to do it. Sure, it'd probably get messy, but that's science!

        (Or on a more serious note, pondering going off-grid, which means water, which means water QA that ideally lets me know if I'm drinking mineral water laced with heavy metals and other nasties. Especially I guess from a power generation PoV given there's cheap land around old coal workings and power stations, but I'm not exactly keen on drinking thallium flavored water.)

        1. Loyal Commenter

          Re: Rickover rolling over.

          60 MHz is going to give you really shitty resolution, and bear in mind that NMR is only sensitive to atoms that have non-zero spin, in a medium that has zero spin (hence the use of deuterated solvents). The NMR spectrum of marmite would be one fucking massive hydrogen peak swamping anything else, from the water content (and marmite is hygroscopic).

          The machines I was trained to use, back when I was a student in the '90s operated at 300, and 440 MHz (the 440 one was the "high res" super-expensive jobby we weren't allowed to touch). I expect those machines are obsolete by now, apparently modern ones operate at around 800 MHz.

          A 60 MHz machine is still going to need a noticeable magnetic field though. I'm left wondering how they manage that on a desktop sized device with no cryogenic cooling. The machines I used needed primary liquid helium, and secondary liquid nitrogen cooling.

          Edit - It seems the answer to that question is "neodymium". A 1.4T permanent magnet is quite an impressive feat. Just don't put your keys down next to it, because unlike with a superconducting magnet, which can be quenched (expensively, and your name will be mud), you won't be getting them back.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Rickover rolling over.

            60 MHz is going to give you really shitty resolution, and bear in mind that NMR is only sensitive to atoms that have non-zero spin, in a medium that has zero spin (hence the use of deuterated solvents).

            /me nods and agrees. Err.. yes! Exactly! :p

            The NMR spectrum of marmite would be one fucking massive hydrogen peak swamping anything else, from the water content (and marmite is hygroscopic).

            That I vaguely understand. Especially having been told why you shouldn't put water in a mass spectrometer. But I guess this is also where computing advances kick in, ie could you just dehydrate the sample first? Or do that in software to filter out the H in the trace, so you'd get a better look at what else was lurking in there. But then from my vague and ancient knowledge of chemistry, you'd expect & probably want to know about the H in all the other organics. Or the machine can export the data for crunching elsewhere.

            A 60 MHz machine is still going to need a noticeable magnetic field though. I'm left wondering how they manage that on a desktop sized device with no cryogenic cooling.

            Plus there's several models. And I have no idea which I should really iWant. Or if a different analyser would do the water quality monitoring better. Or how in one of their demo videos they can figure out it's ibuprofen. But I did have an aha! moment when I saw a simple introduction that showed twin peaks, one double the height of the other, one being H, the other O. So I'm getting there, slowly, and it's all rather fascinating. Especially watching Extractions & Ire synthesising cubane. I suspect if I tried it, it'd be me yelling to firewalk with me cos the lab just exploded.

            (also been having fun with a molecular dynamics package I found via ThunderF00t)

            1. Loyal Commenter

              Re: Rickover rolling over.

              The problem with trying to filter out water peaks is that if there is a significant amount of water in your sample, the hydrogen atoms in that water couple to pretty much everything else in the sample (including itself) due to hydrogen bonding. A tall single peak to filter out isn't the problem, it's the fact that that peak is broad and messy as well, and the signals you are interested in get lost in the noise.

              Incidentally, small amounts of moisture in NMR solvents are generally useful, as the water peak is used for calibration. Small amounts (PPM scale) give a sharp peak, I don't think large amounts will.

              Your real problems are then going to start with the fact that marmite contains a lot of other spin-active nuclei, sodium (3/2 spin) and chlorine (also 3/2 spin and two different spin-active isotopes in a 3:1 ratio) and probably traces of others, such as phosphorus.

              Sure, you'll be able to get a spectrum from marmite, and you might even be able to assign some of the bigger peaks to specific elements in it, although they'll be a whole mess of multiple peaks from coupling. You won't get the sort of nice spectrum you'd get from a pure sample of something in D2O or deuterated dichloromethane.

              If you wanted to have a play around with desktop machine analysing what's in your marmite, you'd probably have more fun with a desktop mass spectrometer, maybe linked up to a chromatograph. Desktop HPLC-MS was definitely a thing 20+ years ago, I suspect it has been nicely refined by now. It's a long time since I worked as a chemist, so I wouldn't know.

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: Rickover rolling over.

                If you wanted to have a play around with desktop machine analysing what's in your marmite, you'd probably have more fun with a desktop mass spectrometer, maybe linked up to a chromatograph. Desktop HPLC-MS was definitely a thing 20+ years ago, I suspect it has been nicely refined by now. It's a long time since I worked as a chemist, so I wouldn't know.

                Well, I've never worked as a chemist. But it's one of those technology things. The Marmite interest came about after being a student and seeing all the THC t-shirts and posters. I realise Marmite is a bit more complex though. And then there's just the way I sometimes justify why I 'need' things. Like I still want a portable XRF machine, so I can advance from 'That's a rock!' to 'Why does this gold have so much Fe in it?'. Or slightly more practical applications, like is this drinking water going to poison me? Where I know just about enough to recognise elemental dangers, but not hazards from organic compounds.

                Plus I'm a bit of an information junkie, so like watching videos like NileRed, or this chap-

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H0qhMhYxuk

                who was using thin film chromatography to identify stuff. It's one of those things I've been pondering, ie going from the theory that if steps are completed correctly, your product should be X to proving it. Plus some semi-crossover things, like Raman spectroscopy given I roughly understand that principle from using Raman amps on fibre networks. Or just this kind of video-

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxbOQ1FhqdQ

                Where Sir Martyn Polikaoff explains to me what the Y in a YAG laser is all about. Which is the Internet going back to it's roots, and sharing academic knowledge, with anyone who's curious able to learn new things*. Or back to the topic in hand, why floating windmills might be a neat intellectual exercise, but practically, they're pointless because just making it float doesn't solve the cost or intermittency problems. Plus being an engineer, was almost immediately pondering inertia, reaction wheels and the ability to keep your expensive floating windmill where you want it. And especially as when you're chasing offshore wind, your toy is going to get battered by it, plus the accompanying waves.

                *also why being called a science 'denier' can get frustrating, when I love science. Especially when I'm being told by people who're just regurgitating memes told to them by supposed 'experts'. Which is why our political elites still happily promoting 'renewables' instead of nuclear. They have even less excuse as Arts students should know something of history, and why we swiftly abandoned wind power as soon as we had better performing alternatives.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: Rickover rolling over.

          "I still want spectrograms of Marmite"

          I saw this somewhere, from a mass spectrometer (out of Berkeley?) a while back; someone ran both Marmite and Vegemite samples. Unfortunately, I can't find the results online at the moment ... but I know they are out there.

          "Or on a more serious note, pondering going off-grid, which means water, which means water QA that ideally lets me know if I'm drinking mineral water laced with heavy metals and other nasties."

          Chances are good that there are places in your area that'll analyze a water sample for you for free. DDG it.

          "there's cheap land around old coal workings and power stations"

          You get what you pay for. Caveat emptor.

          1. Chris Evans

            Re: Rickover rolling over.

            "....someone ran both Marmite and Vegemite samples. Unfortunately, I can't find the results online at the moment ... but I know they are out there."

            Googles first hit for "Marmite and Vegemite spectrometer" might be what you came across!

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Rickover rolling over.

        "because people saw the word nuclear and went "EEEKK""

        I have a friend who refuses to own, use, or eat anything heated in a microwave oven because "nuking things makes them radioactive". Strangely enough, as far as I am aware this is his only quirk. Yes, he eats bananas.

        1. Loyal Commenter

          Re: Rickover rolling over.

          To be fair, nuking things *does* make them radioactive, in the sense that hitting things with nuclear radiation (or high energy EM radiation such as gamma rays) does, as you would get from exploding a nuclear bomb, or putting them in a nuclear reactor or particle accelerator.

          A microwave doesn't "nuke" things, though, although this doesn't help by people colloquially referring to heating things with microwaves as "nuking" them. It uses much less energetic EM radiation to cause molecules to vibrate and heat up, in the same way putting something in the sun would, although, ironically, the UV radiation in sunlight is more likely to cause chemical damage to your food.

          Your friend is probably suffering from a misunderstanding of what "radiation" is, and the difference between nuclear radiation, EM radiation, and radioactivity, probably lumping them together, as many lay-people do. I'm certain you know the difference, but I'm also certain that it's not worth your time to try to explain these things to him, it'll just be white noise, like when I try to explain a complex programming problem to my wife. She doesn't care, and why should she?

          Ironically, sunlight contains very little microwave radiation, because the atmosphere is so good at absorbing it before it reaches the surface. The atmosphere is less good at stopping the harmful shorter-wavelength UV radiation (especially after ozone depletion), and cosmic X-rays and gamma-rays that can have very high energies and could cause atoms in the atmosphere to become radioactive, or be split into various nasty daughter isotopes.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Rickover rolling over.

            The atmosphere is less good at stopping the harmful shorter-wavelength UV radiation (especially after ozone depletion), and cosmic X-rays and gamma-rays that can have very high energies and could cause atoms in the atmosphere to become radioactive, or be split into various nasty daughter isotopes.

            Plus good'ol cosmic rays and SEPs (solar energetic protons). People don't seem to understand that if you really want to avoid radiation, it's safer inside a nuclear plant that being outside it. Especially at the moment given the series of CMEs the Sun's spitting out.

            (also fascinating from a climate PoV, eg Svensmark et al's theories about cosmic rays and cloud condensation nuclei. Plus isotopic studies used in climate proxies, which get abused to interpret temperature rather than cosmic ray activity. We know that's variable from monitoring those rays and the daughter products produced by air shows, and if those have can have a significant effect on cloud cover, could explain climate shifts.)

        2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Rickover rolling over.

          Strangely enough, as far as I am aware this is his only quirk. Yes, he eats bananas.

          Don't forget brazil nuts! Or sleeping next to people. Good'ol bioaccumulation means they accumulate the radioactive potassium. May also explain why some women seem hotter as they get older.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Rickover rolling over.

      "Or enough to make nearly every UK green's head explode."

      Put that on Pay Per View and you'll have enough money to pay for it.

    3. Lars Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Rickover rolling over.

      So what is so fantastic with a floating nuclear power station.

      "Akademik Lomonosov is a non-self-propelled power barge that operates as the first Russian floating nuclear power station. The ship was named after academician Mikhail Lomonosov. It is docked in the Pevek harbour, providing heat to the town and supplying electricity to the regional Chaun-Bilibino power system. It is the world’s northernmost nuclear power plant".

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akademik_Lomonosov

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Rickover rolling over.

        So what is so fantastic with a floating nuclear power station.

        Well, they already exist, and they're a lot more useful and reliable than a floating windmill. As a wise man once said, ye cannae defy the laws of physics, or make the wind blow when it doesn't want to. Mobility is probably less important in the UK, unless there's rapid sea level declines.. but that may indicate 'global warming' is no longer of crisis du jour.

      2. fajensen

        Re: Rickover rolling over.

        So what is so fantastic with a floating nuclear power station.

        It can sink and it will corrode even faster than a standard nuclear power plant?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rickover rolling over.

      Thumbs down because you came into this topic as culture warrior.

      1. Loyal Commenter

        Re: Rickover rolling over.

        Did he? I didn't read it that way.

    5. fajensen

      Re: Rickover rolling over.

      And when it cooks off, we get a FREE nature reserve!

  4. Potemkine! Silver badge
    Pint

    Knowing a little bit about computational fluid dynamics, congrats to the software developers, it must have been tricky to do.

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      They can move on to ...

      Yes. I imagine the modeling was tricky. Be interesting to see how well these actually works when they get around to an extended physical test in salt water with gusty winds, swells, breaking waves and maybe some freezing precipitation at times. But what I'm really curious about is how they plan to get the generated power to shore. That's proven in the past to be a bit tricky in shallow water using turbines solidly attached to the bottom.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They can move on to ...

        There's apparently a cable under construction that will transfer power from Morocco to the UK as part of a massive solar project.

        https://electrek.co/2022/04/21/the-worlds-longest-subsea-cable-will-send-clean-energy-from-morocco-to-the-uk/

        Yet somehow I'm unconvinced...

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: They can move on to ...

          As a long-term boater, I'm less than unconvinced.

          Nothing eats human-made kit faster than a combination of electricity, oxygen, salt and water. Throw in constant movement and a pinch of sunlight around the edges, and you're sunk, eventually.

  5. EvilDrSmith

    Oil rig technology?

    The oil industry has had floating oil production platforms for decades, and I've seen proposals for floating wind turbines before, so I'm not sure what's quite so innovative about this, other than how they fiddle with the blades.

    What I didn't see any discussion of is how the power from from the wind turbine is then delivered: presumably, each floating turbine would need to by wired, probably to a sea-bed hub that then connects to shore (Can't just pump it into a floating storage vessel that periodically swaps over like you can with oil).

    If the plan is to go to deeper water / further off-shore, that implies also rougher water, so there will be some interesting problems to solve with regard to the range of vertical motion each turbine will experience, and how to provide reliable and resilient anchorage.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Oil rig technology?

      The power cable probably runs alongside (or with enough armor cladding, is) the anchor cable.

      Far offshore oil rigs manage to stay anchored in rough seas (some use station keeping as well but not all) and they are MUCH larger/heavier, so it sounds like that part of it is a solved problem.

      1. Tom7

        Re: Oil rig technology?

        Yes, for a given value of "solved". An offshore oil rig is pumping thousands of barrels of oil per day, some of them hundreds of thousands. A barrel of oil is equivalent to around 1.7MWh of energy, so an offshore platform is producing anything up to around half a million MWh per day. A 10MW turbine, operating at a 30% capacity factor, produces about 75MWh per day. Not all oil platforms are that big, but neither are all wind turbines. A turbine support structure has to cost about 15% of what an oil platform's support structure does to make the economics comparable. That's before you consider that a turbine also needs a cable capable of carrying XMW back to shore installed, while your average oil platform stores it all internally until a ship comes along and takes it away.

        In the medium term, I think wind turbines will have chemical plants built into them that produce synthetic fuels. There is a pilot (onshore) plant in Iceland producing 1.4 million litres of methanol per year from geothermal energy; there's no particular reason that the same could not be built into a turbine tower. Then, again, the stuff could be stored until a ship comes and collects it. Similar chemistry is available to produce ethylene and ammonia, major energy-intensive feedstocks for industrial processes.

    2. Tom7

      Re: Oil rig technology?

      It's a crap idea. The life of a wind turbine is already largely limited by the life of the blades under constant flexing from wind loads. So someone's invented a turbine that requires much more flexing of the blades to control it. Slow clap.

      The challenge with deep-offshore wind is not the bit above the water but the bit below it. People have been prototyping floating conventional windmills for well over a decade. If this new turbine was a good idea, it would be a good idea on land as well as offshore. it isn't.

      The thing about deep offshore is that you can't just let it bob around aimlessly. You still need a grid connection to each turbine that's capable of carrying several MW (or whatever the rated output of the turbine is - some are up to 10MW these days). So you've still got to lay a cable on the ocean floor and that upsets environmental types because no doubt there is some fragile sea grass somewhere on the path between the turbine and the shore. You then also need a way to anchor the turbine to that location, in a way where it's not going to break loose, snap its grid connection cable, smash up any other turbines in its path and become a hazard to navigation in rough weather. This all makes it terribly expensive to install. There are enough shallow-water locations where turbines can be installed but haven't to make deep-water offshore wind a solution to problem we don't have yet.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Oil rig technology?

        Deep water offshore turbines would be desirable in some areas to satisfy the NIMBYs who don't want to be able to see the turbines from shore along a coast that lacks a gently sloping continental shelf.

        i.e. California.

  6. usbac

    "they have finally coded the software needed to optimize a design for an offshore turbine the lab applied to patent in 2020"

    How is it that this research is funded by taxpayer dollars, and they are applying for patents on it? Is every American taxpayer allowed a patent license for this? We all paid for it.

    Don't even get me started on how taxpayer funded research papers a always behind expensive paywalls.

    Also, from the quote above, since they are just recently modeling it to see if it works, how can they have patent on it from 2020? I thought patents were reviewed to determine their usefulness?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Holmes

      +1 for government funding yielding private patents.

      +1 for government funded research papers hiding behind paywalls.

      -10000000000 tor patents being issued for ideas which are not achievable at the time of the patent.

  7. Lordrobot

    Have you considered the concerns of the flying fish and sea birds?

    The second article about Sandia.. looks like they have their mittens out for some more Gov Subsidies. Does Chuck Schumer know about this yet?

    How do you get the juice to the grid?

    A twisted pair about 300 miles long should do it...

    Yes of course... how stupid of me to have asked... Diversity engineering... What marvel will they think up next?

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