University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering

ME professors receive research grant from NSF

Professors Perry Li and Terry Simon received a four-year, $2 million award to lead a national research team to develop a localized method for storing energy from off-shore wind turbines in high pressure compressed air vessels before conversion to electricity. This storage would help alleviate power supply and demand imbalances during the day.

The project makes use of the comparative advantages of hydraulics and pneumatics in a so-called "Open Accumulator" architecture, and an isothermal air compressor/expander design. This novel approach avoids losses associated with multiple conversions and allows the electrical generator and the transmission lines to be substantially down-sized. The interdisciplinary research involves fluid flow, nanotechnology, heat transfer, machine design, and systems and control. 

“This grant will help us make progress on storing large amounts of energy and quickly turning on and off the storage unit to greatly improve the economics and utility wind power, especially off-shore,” said Perry Li, the lead researcher on this grant. “Storage is a key factor in our success in achieving the national goal of obtaining 20 percent of our energy from wind by 2030.”

Li is also the deputy co-director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power based at the University of Minnesota. This project will leverage research done at the center.

Other key researchers on the team include Eric Loth at the University of Virginia, James Van de Ven at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Oakland California-based industry partner Lightsail Energy.

The award is made through NSF’s Emerging Frontier in Research and Innovation (EFRI) and the Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) programs. This grant is one of only 14 EFRI awards funded in this round and one of only four in the Renewable Energy Storage (RESTOR) category.