The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Sebastian Wins ASME Award

Thomas Sebastian, a graduate student in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, has won the Solar Energy Division Graduate Student Award for 2010, as presented by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The international award is representative of the top graduate student in renewable energy, including wind energy. Sebastian’s research deals with floating, offshore, wind turbines.

“There are very good reasons to develop floating, offshore, wind energy systems,” wrote Sebastion while applying for the prestigious ASME award, “but significant engineering hurdles have to be addressed first.”

As Sebastian’s acceptance letter from ASME stated, “There were several excellent candidates this year, and we had a difficult time selecting the best candidate. However, yours stood out both in terms of the broad technical skill set, the specificity of the research, maturity, and vision of the larger impact of your work.”

The award recognizes an outstanding graduate student working in an area of solar energy supported by the Solar Energy Division of ASME. Areas of interest include: conservation and solar buildings, heating and cooling, photovoltaics, solar chemistry and bio-conversion, solar thermal power, general solar topics, and wind energy.

“As attractive as the wind resource is just offshore,” explained Sebastian in his ASME research statement, “it becomes even more appealing farther out from the coastline. The wind is less variable, resulting in less wear-and-tear on equipment and less energy production uncertainty. The wind is also, typically, stronger farther away from the coast. Visibility from the coast is also less of a concern when operating in deeper water.

“The wind resource available off of our coasts is significant and capable of supporting a sizable portion of our current energy needs. Just as attractive as the shear abundance of energy available is the proximity of this vast resource to our major population centers, which are predominately situated along our coastlines. Still, there is often opposition to the placement of offshore wind turbines, mostly due to aesthetic objections. Local opposition, compounded with the large capital investment required to initiate a project, can stall offshore wind farm development. The goal, then, is to generate the maximum amount of electricity from the wind possible, for a given location, while minimizing the negative impact of other factors, like visibility, such that it makes economic sense to develop offshore wind. An engineering solution to achieve this goal is to move farther offshore into deeper water, which requires the development of floating, offshore, wind turbines.” (April 2010)