Colorado School of Mines Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Associate Professor Kathryn Johnson. (Photo Credit: Deirdre Keating)
Graphic of the collapsing rotors wind turbine. (Illustration by Science)

GOLDEN, Colo., Feb. 3, 2016 – Colorado School of Mines Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Associate Professor Kathryn Johnson, who also holds a joint appointment as a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), was one of six researchers who received a $3.56-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to develop a low cost of energy 50-MW turbine. The small-scale design will produce more than six times the power output of the largest current turbines, be longer than two football fields and have blades that resemble a palm tree.

“Palm trees bend in the wind easier than a harder, stiffer tree,” said Johnson. “That means they are less likely to snap in high winds, so these blades will be able to bend out of the wind and therefore will put less stress on all the other turbine components. You will be able to put these turbines in places that have higher wind conditions.”

In the next two years, Johnson will be working with graduate student Dana Martin to create computer simulations that will test the prototype turbine in various wind conditions. They will examine and manipulate how the turbine operates in response to each of these conditions and how much electricity it produces. Then, they will help the team to design and build a prototype for field-testing.

In 2018, the team will build a scale model at NREL’s National Wind Technology Center. Johnson and Martin will replace the blades on an existing 600-kilowatt turbine with their scale design. “It will be fun to watch our prototype spin in the real world and look at the data and see what things need to be changed.”

The team is led by the University of Virginia and includes researchers from University of Illinois, the University of Colorado, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. Corporate advisors include Dominion Resources, General Electric, Siemens and Vestas.


Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3541 |