turbine blade optimization, integrated airfoil and blade design, aerostructural blade optimization, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), shape optimization, exact derivatives, wind energy


A typical approach to optimize wind turbine blades separates the airfoil shape design from the blade planform design. This approach is sequential, where the airfoils along the blade span are pre-selected or optimized and then held constant during the blade planform optimization. In contrast, integrated blade design optimizes the airfoils and the blade planform concurrently and thereby has the potential to reduce cost of energy (COE) more than sequential design. Nevertheless, sequential design is commonly performed because of the ease of precomputation, or the ability to compute the airfoil analyses prior to the blade optimization. This research compares two integrated blade design approaches. The precomputational method combines precomputation with the ability to change the airfoil shapes in limited ways during the optimization. The free-form method allows for a complete range of airfoil shapes, but without precomputation. The airfoils are analyzed with a panel method (XFOIL) and a Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes computational fluid dynamics method (RANS CFD). Optimizing the NREL 5-MW reference turbine showed COE reductions of 2.0%, 4.2%, and 4.7% when using XFOIL and 2.7%, 6.0%, and 6.7% when using RANS CFD for the sequential, precomputational, and free-form methods, respectively. The precomputational method captures the majority of the benefit of integrated design for minimal additional computational cost and complexity, but the free-form method provides modest additional benefits if the extra effort is made in computational cost and development time.

Original Publication Citation

Barrett, R., and Ning, A., “Integrated Free-Form Method for Aerostructural Optimization of Wind Turbine Blades,” Wind Energy, Apr. 2018. doi:10.1002/we.2186

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


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Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology


Mechanical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor