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An Examination of the Effect of Reynolds Number on Airfoil Performance

[+] Author Affiliations
Tim Burdett, Jason Gregg, Kenneth Van Treuren

Baylor University, Waco, TX

Paper No. ES2011-54720, pp. 2203-2213; 11 pages
  • ASME 2011 5th International Conference on Energy Sustainability
  • ASME 2011 5th International Conference on Energy Sustainability, Parts A, B, and C
  • Washington, DC, USA, August 7–10, 2011
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5468-6
  • Copyright © 2011 by ASME


The standard of living throughout the world has increased dramatically over the last 30 years and is projected to continue to rise. This growth leads to an increased demand on conventional energy sources, such as fossil fuels. However, these are finite resources. Thus, there is an increasing demand for alternative energy sources, such as wind energy. Much of current wind turbine research focuses on large-scale (>1 MW), technologically-complex wind turbines installed in areas of high average wind speed (>20 mph). An alternative approach is to focus on small-scale (1–10kW), technologically-simple wind turbines built to produce power in low wind regions. While these turbines may not be as efficient as the large-scale systems, they require less industrial support and a less complicated electrical grid since the power can be generated at the consumer’s location. To pursue this approach, a design methodology for small-scale wind turbines must be developed and validated. This paper addresses one element of this methodology, airfoil performance prediction. In the traditional design process, an airfoil is selected and published lift and drag curves are used to optimize the blade twist and predict performance. These published curves are typically generated using either experimental testing or a numeric code, such as PROFIL (the Eppler Airfoil Design and Analysis Code) or XFOIL. However, the published curves often represent performance over a different range of Reynolds numbers than the actual design conditions. Wind turbines are typically designed from 2-D airfoil data, so having accurate airfoil data for the design conditions is critical. This is particularly crucial for small-scale, fixed-pitched wind turbines, which typically operate at low Reynolds numbers (<500,000) where airfoil performance can change significantly with Reynolds number. From a simple 2-D approach, the ideal operating condition for an airfoil to produce torque is the angle of attack at which lift is maximized and drag is minimized, so prediction of this angle will be compared using experimental and simulated data. Theoretical simulations in XFOIL of the E387 airfoil, designed for low Reynolds numbers, suggest that this optimum angle for design is Reynolds number dependent, predicting a difference of 2.25° over a Reynolds number range of 460,000 to 60,000. Published experimental data for the E387 airfoil demonstrate a difference of 2.0° over this same Reynolds number range. Data taken in the Baylor University Subsonic Wind Tunnel for the S823 airfoil shows a similar trend. This paper examines data for the E387 and S823 airfoils at low Reynolds numbers (75,000, 150,000, and 200,000 for the S823) and compares the experimental data with XFOIL predictions and published PROFIL predictions.

Copyright © 2011 by ASME



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