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Albuquerque-based Sandia National Laboratories is conducting comprehensive research into the viability of vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) for offshore use. The design, previously considered impractical for large-scale applications, has the potential to transform offshore wind technology, making it a more economically viable energy source.

The research is being conducted under a 2011 Department of Energy (DOE) solicitation for advanced rotor technologies for wind power generation in the United States. The US$4.1 million research project began in January of this year and will continue for five years. The first stage will last two years, during which time, several concept designs will be created and run through modern modelling software. The most workable of these will then be selected and undergo a three-year construction period before completing a rigorous test regime, measuring its effectiveness against the most extreme conditions that turbines must endure in an offshore environment.

In the 1970s and 80s, VAWTs were actively developed as wind power generators, exhibiting simpler designs than their horizontal-axis cousins and proving generally more reliable. However, once wind turbines began to be scaled up in size, the lower cost of rotors for horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWTs) seemingly relegated VAWTs to the history books.

The project will reassess the economic implications of large-scale VAWTs, with the goal of making them a cost effective and viable method for generating energy from offshore breezes. In doing so, it aims to address the national energy challenge of increasing the use of low-carbon generation.

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