Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Olesya I. Zhupanska


A primary motivation for this research comes from the need to improve the ability of polymer-matrix composites to withstand lightning strikes. In particular, we are concerned with lightning strike damage in composite wind turbine blades. The direct effects of lightning strike on polymer-matrix composites often include rapid temperature rise, melting or burning at the lightning attachment points, and mechanical damage due to lightning-induced magnetic force and acoustic shock wave. The lightning strike damage accumulation problem is essentially multiphysic. The lightning plasma channel discharges an electric current up to 200 kA, inducing a severe heat flux at the surface of the composite structure, as well as generating Joule heating through the composite structure. The resulting electro-thermo-mechanical response of the composite structure may include matrix degradation and decomposition, delamination, and fiber breakage and sublimation, thus leading to catastrophic failure.

The existing studies related to the lightning strike damage in composites ignored the lightning channel radius expansion during the initial lightning discharge and lacked adequate treatment of material phase transitions. These assumptions significantly simplify the mathematical treatment of the problem and affect the predictive capabilities of the models. Another common feature of these limited studies is that they all focused on carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer-matrix (CFRP) composites, which are electrically conductive.

In the present thesis, the thermal responses and thermal ablations in a non-conductive glass-fiber-reinforced polymer-matrix (GFRP) composite wind turbine blade and in a conductive CFRP composite wind turbine blade are studied, respectively. In the case of non-conductive GFRP composite wind turbine blade, prior to the thermal response and thermal ablation analysis, a finite element analysis is performed to calculate the electric field due to lightning stepped leader to estimate the dielectric breakdown of the non-conductive composite wind turbine blade. The estimation of dielectric breakdown is used to determine whether Joule heating needs to be included in the problem formulation. To predict the thermal response and thermal ablation in the composite structure due to lightning strike, a physics-based model describing surface interaction between the lightning channel and the composite structure has been developed. The model consists of: (i) spatial and temporal evolution of the lightning channel as a function of the electric current waveform; (ii) temporary and spatially non-uniform heat flux and current density (in the case of electrically conductive CFRP composite or if dielectric breakdown occurs in the case of non-conductive GFRP composite) generated at the composite structure; and (iii) nonlinear transient heat transfer problem formulation for layered anisotropic composites that includes the moving boundary of the expanding lightning channel and the phase transition moving boundary associated with instantaneous material removal due to sublimation. The model has been employed to investigate the thermal responses and thermal ablations in a GFRP composite laminated panel used in a Sandia 100-meter all-glass baseline wind turbine blade (SNL 100-00) and a typical CFRP composite laminated panel subjected to lightning strike. The temperature-dependent directional material properties for both the GFRP and CFRP composites have been determined in this thesis using a micromechanics approach based on the experimental data for fibers and resin. An integrated Matlab-ABAQUS numerical procedure features the aforementioned aspects (i), (ii), and (iii) of the developed model. The obtained results include the evolution of temperature fields in the composite laminated panel and the progressive shape change of the composite laminated panel due to thermal ablation. The predictions of thermal ablation in the CFRP composite laminated panel are validated by reported experimental results.


Composite materials, Finite element analysis, Lightning strike, Thermal ablation, Wind turbine blade


xvi, 174




Copyright 2016 Yeqing Wang