Time Magazine Names Northeastern Research-supported Company’s Turbine Towers to Best Inventions of 2023 List
Time Magazine selected the spirally welded wind towers as one of “The Best Inventions of 2023,” highlighting the innovative and efficient approach developed by Keystone Tower Systems with support from CEE Professor Andy Myers.
Time Magazine released their list of “The Best Inventions of 2023,” naming among them spirally welded wind towers invented and developed by the company Keystone Tower Systems. The spirally welded towers, with grant funding from the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, were developed by Keystone with support from multiple collaborative research projects starting with Keystone’s founding a decade ago and continuing today with Professor Andy Myers of Northeastern and researchers at Johns Hopkins.
“One of my first projects as an assistant professor at Northeastern was a collaboration with Keystone while they were still a two-person startup out of MIT,” recalled Myers. “Since then, they have grown into a full-fledged company with a large manufacturing facility in Texas and dozens of employees.” Myers, an expert in offshore and onshore wind structures, has published multiple papers from his research with Keystone, which has also provided ample work for three of his PhD students.
“Their core idea is to make a wind turbine tower the way you make a paper towel roll, or perhaps a spiral cinnamon bun dough can that you pop open,” Myers explained. The traditional method of turbine tower construction is called can welding, where smaller tube segments are stacked and welded together. “Keystone is making towers with a continuous spiral weld instead. Their process allows tower sections to be created in the factory in one continuous process, producing towers faster and cheaper, in a way that is easier to automate.”
While Keystone’s engineering team provides the design for their turbines, the university teams provide feedback on the quality and structural behavior of tubes, through computer simulation from Johns Hopkins and large-scale specimen experimental testing at Northeastern. “When the company first started it was just two people that needed to prove a concept. We are one of a few universities with the testing capability to prove the viability of their concept,” said Myers, referring to Northeastern’s STReSS Lab located at the Kostas Research Center for Homeland Security in Burlington, MA. The 4,000 square-foot STReSS Lab allows for large-scale testing of structural systems to failure. It is here that Myers and his students have crunched, squeezed, and pressed many Keystone prototypes, extracting valuable data to help the company prove and hone their design.
Keystone’s invention has great potential to accelerate the adoption of clean wind energy, and not just through increased speed and efficiency. While wind turbines may seem quite straightforward, they actually present a complex series of interconnected challenges in structural design, logistics, and manufacturing. Turbine towers are commonly 100 meters in height, and traditional manufacturing methods create large sections of tower which must be transported from factory to installation site. Practical concerns, such as the dimensions and capacity of trucks and trains that must transport these tubes, bridge clearances along highways and railways, and road/rail widths limit the size of towers that can be constructed. In the future, Myers says, Keystone intends to develop portable manufacturing capabilities, allowing them to deploy a “field factory” near the installation site, bypassing the transportation logistic issues. Myers and his students will continue to work with Keystone into the future, playing an important role in the US clean energy movement.