SUMR featured on the front cover of Wind Energy

Wind Energy’s July issue   |   SUMR featured article

Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors enable 50-megawatt wind turbines that may reduce off-shore energy costs by 50%.

Our mission is to conceptualize, design and demonstrate morphing technologies for 50-megawatt wind turbines that can reduce offshore levelized cost of energy by as much as 50% by 2025.

Offshore wind is an incredible energy resource. For wind power to continue its major role in American energy independence, we need to create larger wind turbines with lower energy costs.

Traditional upwind blades are too expensive and too heavy to avoid striking their towers. This problem becomes more and more challenging as production wind turbines are scaled up to extreme sizes.

How can one adapt turbine designs to suit such extreme scales? Our team of researchers and windpower experts has discovered that a design which morphs and sways with the wind can align with the blade path, dramatically reducing structural requirements. This go-with-the-flow design approach was bio-inspired by palm trees, whose trunks can align with the wind, surviving hurricane force winds.

The University of Virginia is leading a new Department of Energy ARPA-E effort to design extreme-scale blades that are 200 meters long. Such blades can power 50-megawatt wind turbines that are 10 times more powerful than current wind turbines and taller than the Eiffel Tower. (See relative scale below.)


Our team includes world aerodynamics experts from the University of Illinois. They are examining new concepts in downwind airfoil blade design.

Sandia National Labs is developing the project’s structural configuration. Sandia has found that downwind morphing rotors can supersede traditional designs by implementing a design that’s not only much lighter, but also segmented. Blade segmentation allows current manufacturing and transportation constraints to be met by manufacturing the 200-m-long blades in segments.

Additionally, experts in state-of-the-art control techniques from the University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines are creating the advanced control system that pitches and morphs the turbine’s blades. Morphing extreme-scale blades under extreme wind conditions substantially lowers fatigue accumulation and increases turbine survival during hurricanes.

To investigate these novel concepts, NREL’s NWTC will test the morphing-ultralight blades in the mountains of Colorado on a 12-story turbine tower.

Our close collaboration with the world’s top turbine companies supports market development and allows for accurate cost estimations. Over the next 3 years, this high-risk, high-reward venture will evolve from a conceptual design to a scaled demonstrator.

Bringing our project to full fruition will be a major step toward maximizing U.S. offshore wind power. With SUMR, environmental impact is modest and wind source is massive.