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Researchers have taken a step toward helping wildlife coexist more safely with wind power generation by demonstrating the success of an impact detection system that uses vibration sensors mounted to turbine blades.

Corresponding author Roberto Albertani and collaborators at the OSU College of Engineering and the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have created an integrated sensor system that can tell if a bird or bat hits a turbine. The system can also determine what species was involved in the collision.

The research by Albertani, College of Engineering graduate student Congcong Hu, and Robert Suryan of the Marine Science Center’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife tested a conceptual design of a system that auto-detects collisions. The system features a vibration sensor at the base of a blade, an acoustic sensor on the generator housing to pick up bird sounds, and an optical camera on the tower base. Using a compressed-air launcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colo., researchers simulated bird impacts by firing tennis balls at turbines. General results from 29 field tests with blade strikes showed positive detection and confirmation 14 times.

The U.S. Department of Energy supported the research. The department’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy is supporting Albertani on a related project to detect and deter approaching eagles as well as determine if a blade strike has occurred. The idea is that a computer-connected camera would determine if an approaching bird is an eagle and whether it’s flying toward the blades. If both those answers are yes, the computer would trigger a ground-level kinetic deterrent: randomly moving, brightly colored facsimiles of people, designed to play into eagles’ apparent aversion to humans. When a vibration sensor detects a thump, recorded video data from the camera could be examined to tell if the impact was caused by an eagle or something else.

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