Wright State research team wins award for wind turbine solution

(Contributed by Timothy R. Gaffney)

A Wright State University professor and two graduate students have distinguished themselves – and Wright State – by taking second place in an international competition to design an automatic fault detection and isolation solution for wind turbines.

Xiadong (Frank) Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, presented a paper on the solution in August on behalf of the team led by his students, Qi Zhang and Songling Zhao, and himself, at the International Federation of Automatic Control’s (IFAC’s) 18th World Congress in Milan, Italy.

Zhang and his students were among 12 teams from universities around the world that submitted solutions in October 2010.

The IFAC World Congress, which meets only once every three years, draws a worldwide audience from academia and industry. It’s the most prestigious conference in the field of automatic control. More than 2,000 engineers and scientists attended the congress in Milan.

The team’s challenge was to develop a fault diagnosis algorithm for different types of faults specified in a wind turbine benchmark model and demonstrate it with MATLAB/Simulink, a simulation software tool widely used in science and engineering. The competition was organized by MATLAB maker MathWorks, KK-Electronic, and Aalborg University in Denmark.

Frank Zhang said the project was closer to addressing a real-world problem than typical academic work. “It’s a good practice for students to look at an interesting and practical problem,” he said.

The use of wind turbines to generate electrically is growing dramatically worldwide. In the United States alone, wind power capacity grew by 15 percent in 2010 to more than 40,000 megawatts, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2010 Wind Technologies Market Report.

Qi Zhang (no relation to Frank,) who is pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, said the project challenged him to learn the principles of wind turbines and to apply his knowledge of intelligent control and health management to a real problem.  “I learned a lot in the project,” he said.

The other student, Songling Zhao, has graduated with a master’s degree in electrical engineering.

The contest’s financial award, 250 euros, was not great, Frank Zhang said, but the students received notice among international leaders in their career field.

It also brought distinction to their university.

“It’s really a good way to show the excellence of our research work here at Wright State,” Frank Zhang said.

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