SustainabilityAugust 3, 2023

Optimizing Urban Wind Turbines with Simulation

We had the opportunity to interview Francesco Avallone, Professor at Italian University, Politecnico di Torino, at the 2022 Eurocentral Regional User Meeting about his presentation, “Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics of Ducted Wind Turbines for Urban Environments”.
Avatar Katie Corey

Not many five-year-olds would accurately foresee the beginning of their career, but this was undoubtedly the case for Francesco Avallone, Professor at Politecnico di Torino.

“In my first year of school I was asked what I wanted to do in the future and I remember saying that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer,” Avallone said. “At that time, I can’t imagine that I knew what that meant, but the fact remains that I was drawn to engineering – and anything involving math problems, to be honest – from an incredibly young age.”

About 24 years later, Avallone was graduating from the University of Naples Federico II with a master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering – his journey starting just as he had predicted. But before long, he saw his career take a slightly different path.

“After my Ph.D., I was offered a place at TU Delft in the Netherlands as a Postdoctoral Researcher, where I would be working on wind turbine noise,” Avallone said. “This was an interesting yet complicated field for me, so I went for it.”

The rest – as they say – is history. Avallone has been working in wind ever since. “Wind energy is incredibly important, not least because it’s easy to get, and it’s clean too,” he said.

In fact, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which declares ‘code red for humanity’ due to greenhouse gas emissions, highlights the importance of renewable energy for global energy demand. “Wind energy will play a key role in the energy transition, so it’s crucial to find out as much as we can about natural resources like this,” Avallone said.

Avallone’s passion for the subject is clear to see. “It’s fascinating to me because the engineering principles on which we have built today’s wind turbines have remained unchanged,” he said.

The use of traditional wind turbines in urban areas is challenging because of multiple factors including lower wind speed and non-uniform inflow compared to offshore sites.

What has changed, however, is the amount of space we have for turbines. “Traditionally, wind turbines have been situated in areas with plenty of space, but today’s urban environments don’t have that luxury,” Avallone said. “While there is certainly a place for offshore turbines, it’s also important to find ways to use wind in urban environments so that we can benefit from the cost savings of having clean energy closer to the user.”

“Every building in an urban environment affects the flow of wind,” Avallone said. “Further challenges include the overall acceptance of turbines, which can often be quite low, not least because of the noise they produce.”

But Avallone is determined to meet these challenges. Along with his previous team at TU Delft, he has worked on a ducted air turbine. “This is a wind turbine that is encapsulated in a duct,” he said. “The role of the duct is to increase the mass flow rate through the turbine relative to a bare turbine operating. It also shields from the continuous change of flow that we spoke about earlier, so it can help increase the efficiency of the turbine in such a complex environment.”

Avallone’s design also helps limit noise. “Of course, it is difficult to completely solve the noise issue, since noise is related to aerodynamics, and you cannot discard aerodynamics. However, with smaller wind turbines installed closer to the environment, the amplitude is less, and the frequency is different,” he said. “The duct helps minimize noise also.”

Designing this type of product, however, is a complicated business. “A ducted system has different complexities than a conventional turbine,” Avallone said. “Installation can also have a relevant price. That’s without factoring in cost issues – we want this type of energy to be affordable, so these systems can’t be expensive to build.”

Tackling these problems using physical prototypes would be time-, cost- and resource-intensive. However, by using simulation, Avallone and his team can virtually test an iteration of a product, evaluate its performance against previous iterations, and make improvements as necessary. “Simulation helps us to understand the tiny details that can lead to much better designs,” Avallone said. “By carrying out strong aerodynamics simulations we can get really accurate noise predictions.”

Avallone and his team use Dassault Systèmes’ SIMULIA technology. “We mainly work with PowerFLOW, because it suits our needs perfectly,” Avallone said.

PowerFLOW imports fully complex model geometry and accurately and efficiently performs aerodynamic, aeroacoustics and thermal management simulations. “It enables us to work with large-scale simulations with incredibly complicated flows,” Avallone said.

And these aren’t the only benefits. “The software is continuously updated, so we always feel like we are at the cutting edge of new developments and working with state-of-the-art technology,” Avallone said. “We also get really comprehensive support, so we know that any installation or running problems will be easily solved.”

As a result, Avallone is confident that SIMULIA will support his team long into the future. “Cities are getting ever-more complicated, and so the needs of ducted wind turbines will evolve too,” he said. “In the long term, we hope to devise new wind turbines that are different shapes and more aesthetically pleasing. Simulation will help us do that.”

Join us in the SIMULIA Community to continue the conversation and watch a replay of Francesco Avallone’s presentation at the 2022 EuroCentral Regional User Meeting, Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics of Ducted Wind Turbines for Urban Environments.

Interested in the latest in simulation? Looking for advice and best practices? Want to discuss simulation with fellow users and Dassault Systèmes experts? The SIMULIA Community is the place to find the latest resources for SIMULIA software and to collaborate with other users. The key that unlocks the door of innovative thinking and knowledge building, the SIMULIA Community provides you with the tools you need to expand your knowledge, whenever and wherever.

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