Aerodynamics and optimal design of biplane wind turbine blades
In order to improve energy capture and reduce the cost of wind energy, in the past few decades wind turbines have grown significantly larger. As their blades get longer, the design of the inboard region (near the blade root) becomes a trade-off between competing structural and aerodynamic requirements. State-of-the-art blades require thick airfoils near the root to efficiently support large loads inboard, but those thick airfoils have inherently poor aerodynamic performance. New designs are required to circumvent this design compromise. One such design is the "biplane blade", in which the thick airfoils in the inboard region are replaced with thinner airfoils in a biplane configuration. This design was shown previously to have significantly increased structural performance over conventional blades. In addition, the biplane airfoils can provide increased lift and aerodynamic efficiency compared to thick monoplane inboard airfoils, indicating a potential for increased power extraction.
This work investigates the fundamental aerodynamic aspects, aerodynamic design and performance, and optimal structural design of the biplane blade. First, the two-dimensional aerodynamics of biplanes with relatively thick airfoils are investigated, showing unique phenomena which arise as a result of airfoil thickness. Next, the aerodynamic design of the full biplane blade is considered. Two biplane blades are designed for optimal aerodynamic loading, and their aerodynamic performance quantified. Considering blades with practical chord distributions and including the drag of the mid-blade joint, it is shown that biplane blades have comparable power output to conventional monoplane designs. The results of this analysis also show that the biplane blades can be designed with significantly less chord than conventional designs, a characteristic which enables larger blade designs. The aerodynamic loads on the biplane blades are shown to be increased in gust conditions and decreased under extreme conditions. Finally, considering these aerodynamic loads, the blade mass reductions achievable by biplane blades are quantified. The internal structure of the biplane blades are designed using a multi-disciplinary optimization which seeks to minimize mass, subject to constraints which represent realistic design requirements. Using this approach, it is shown that biplane blades can be built more than 45% lighter than a similarly-optimized conventional blade; the reasons for these mass reductions are examined in detail. As blade length is increased, these mass reductions are shown to be even more significant. These large mass reductions are indicative of significant cost of electricity reductions from rotors fitted with biplane blades. Taken together, these results show that biplane blades are a concept which can enable the next generation of larger wind turbine rotors.