An Advanced Actuator Line Method for Wind Energy Applications and Beyond

Matthew Churchfield, Luis Martinez-Tossas, Charles Meneveau, Philippe Spalart, Scott Schreck

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

72 Scopus Citations


The actuator line method to represent rotor aerodynamics within computational fluid dynamics has been in use for more than a decade. This method applies a body force to the flow field along rotating lines corresponding to the individual rotor blades and employs tabular airfoil data to compute the force distribution. The actuator line method is attractive because, compared to blade-resolved simulations, the required mesh is much simpler and the computational cost is lower. This work proposes a higher fidelity variant of the actuator line method meant to fill the space between current actuator line and blade-resolved simulations. It contains modifications in two key areas. The first is that of freestream velocity vector estimation along the line, which is necessary to compute the lift and drag along the line using tabular airfoil data. Most current methods rely on point sampling in which the location of sampling is ambiguous. Here we test a velocity sampling method that uses a properly weighted integral over space, removing this ambiguity. The second area of improvement is the function used to project the one-dimensional actuator line force onto the three-dimensional fluid mesh as a body force. We propose and test a projection function that spreads the force over a region that looks something like a real blade with the hope that it will produce the blade local and near wake flow features with more accuracy and higher fidelity. Our goal is that with these two improvements, not only will the flow field predictions be enhanced, but also the spanwise loading will be made more accurate. We refer to this combination of improvements as the advanced actuator line method. We apply these improvements to two different wind turbine cases. Although there is a strong wind energy motivation in our work, these advanced actuator line ideas can also be used in other applications, such as helicopter rotors.

Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2017
Event35th Wind Energy Symposium, 2017 - Grapevine, United States
Duration: 9 Jan 201713 Jan 2017


Conference35th Wind Energy Symposium, 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Bibliographical note

See NREL/CP-5000-67611 for preprint

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5000-68534


  • actuator line
  • aerodynamics
  • computational fluid mechanics
  • wind turbine


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