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Dr. Maggie Chen with her graduate students. (L-R) Dr. Dongmei (Maggie) Chen, John Hall, Rehan Refai, Clay Hearn, Budi Hadisujoto, Cody Hill and Dushyant Palejiya

Dr. Maggie Chen with her graduate students. (L-R) Dr. Dongmei (Maggie) Chen, John Hall, Rehan Refai, Clay Hearn, Budi Hadisujoto, Cody Hill and Dushyant Palejiya

An assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department has been selected to receive a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award totaling $409,983 from the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Dongmei (Maggie) Chen, who joined The University of Texas at Austin in 2009, will use the funding to establish a long-term research and educational program in renewable energy, with an initial research focus on the control of an integrated wind turbine and rechargeable battery system. The goal of the research is to develop methods to mitigate the effect of wind power intermittency and to maximize the life of rechargeable batteries.

"Dr. Chen's research could pave the way for wind energy and transform it into a major player in the nation's overall power supply. Energy -- more importantly sustainable energy -- is essential to our nation and world, and I'm glad the NSF is recognizing the important research that she is leading in this field."

- Dr. Gregory L. Fenves, Dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering

The NSF CAREER award

The CAREER awards recognize promising young faculty and support their research with five years of funding. Dr. Chen now joins three other engineering faculty who have received CAREER awards in 2011. They are: Amit Bhasin, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Constantine Caramanis, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Christopher Ellison, Department of Chemical Engineering.

"It's an honor to receive this award because it is highly competitive. The funding provides stable support for our research on this promising and important technology," Dr. Chen said.

Dr. Chen's Research

Dr. Chen is using battery storage to mitigate the intermittency of wind energy, an increasingly popular alternative to fossil fuels because it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean and does not produce greenhouse gas emissions during operation. But controlling the integrated wind turbine and battery storage system is challenging, since it is a switched system that has not been well understood.

Switched systems in wind energy

Depending on the operating condition (wind speed, electricity load demand, and the battery state of charge etc.), the wind turbine could switch between operation modes with distinct dynamic behavior associated with each mode. When switching from one mode to the other, it is necessary to minimize the switching time to achieve high efficiency of wind energy harvesting and still maintain robust system stability. This is an unsolved challenge in the control field. The proposed research will explicitly derive a lower bound of the switching time for a class of switched systems, formulate an innovative optimal nonlinear trajectory control methodology, and develop a physics-based, control-oriented battery state-of-charge model for observer design. Her research could not only provide enabling technology to the wind energy industry, but also contribute to the control theory on a class of switched systems.

During the course of her research, Dr. Chen will collaborate with a local battery company who builds battery storage for wind farms. The collaboration could lead to novel technologies that are directly translatable to industry.

Dr. Chen said the technology developed through her research could be adapted to inland, offshore and deep-sea floating wind turbine applications. The educational component of the proposal seeks to broaden the participation of members from underrepresented groups in engineering. It also focuses on engaging middle school and high school students, and their teachers in science and engineering.

Prior to joining the Cockrell School of Engineering, Dr. Chen was with the General Motors Fuel Cell Activities Center. She specializes in dynamic systems and control, with applications in renewable energy systems, the PEM fuel cell, and automotive transmission.

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