Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Collegiate Wind Competition!

The goal of the Collegiate Wind Competition was to design, build, and market a small (goal: 10 kW) wind turbine intended for backpacking into a field site for charging instrumentation or personal electronics. Students were judged on the turbine's performance, reliability, power output, power output in accordance with its power curve (in increments of 1 m/s), breaking ability, and cut-in wind speed. They were also asked to put together business and marketing plans, and give presentations on both.

Our entire team was very Alaskan... sharp, tough, and pragmatic, if a bit rough around the edges. Their assessment of the needs for local growth in the wind energy sector was the only one that addressed real-world issues, discussing both the high costs of power in rural Alaska, and the problems with implementing large-scale projects in isolated villages. In comparison, some of the other presentations' issues sounded downright trivial. One addressed aesthetics and suggested painting the turbines with artwork to encourage community acceptance. I don't fault those students for grasping at straws; in the larger scale world in which they live, many of the bigger problems either have already been solved or are actively being tackled by intelligent and motivated people in both the government and private industry. In Alaska, in contrast, there is little industry interest and little government money, and our problems are so unique to us that we have fewer people focusing their best thinking on our problems. If the entire wind industry focused its combined economic and intellectual powers on us, our younger people might be scrambling to see what's left for them, too!

As for performance, the UAF turbine was equally representative of Alaska--it was a conservative and sturdy design. Alaskans do not want to be first to deploy the cool and fancy. We want to know that it works Outside first; we'll have enough challenges getting it to work with extreme temperatures and minimal maintenance! However, other teams "thought outside the box" and came up with designs that were both clever and visually arresting (three had vertical axes!). Another difference is that the Alaskan students designed, built, and tested the turbine in their spare time. Many of the other Universities had the turbines built as part of the engineering students' senior design projects, so they were able to do the work for coursework credit. Of course, almost all were still scrambling at the last minute! Here is a report from PW, sent out at 5 a.m. in the morning after the first day of competition:

We finished building our electrical system, and did our final assembly. We found that the updated design of the blades eliminated the possibility of using the mechanical brake so we decided to go full electrical brake.
Monday: We put our turbine in the wind tunnel, survived the wind speeds, though some other teams did explode or break in the tunnel. The biggest problem we had was getting a repeatable power curve. We determined that what we really could have used was a voltage sink identical to that being used at the competition.
Tuesday: C and M kicked ass with their design review, and we did our testing in the tunnel. We were not allowed to use the battery that we bought for the break, so we had to come back another time to perform that test. I was worried about the chassis breaking because of the amount of bend when we went up to full speed. We were one of two teams who were able to brake their turbine.
We've had a lot of long nights and have been working very hard. Big Holla to C and B [the EE students on the team] who have really come forward with their exceptional work on the electrical system.

Anyway enough of that. Here are photos!

UAF's entry:

Last-minute scrutiny:

Most of Team UAF (a few had commitments at home and could not make it):

First trial in the wind tunnel:

Entry from the Colorado School of Mines:

I really liked this concept. As a backpacker, I liked the idea of a foldable, packable turbine. However, this thing failed to produce power. It didn't even spin in the wind tunnel! I talked with some team members, and they told me that they had been doing test runs outdoors in the natural environment, and it had spun fine. They had only gotten access to their wind tunnel at home a few weeks prior to the competition, and there they found that in the artificial, perfectly laminar environment of the wind tunnel, their turbine wouldn't spin. It's a shame because in real applications, there would always be some turbulence to get their turbine going, but there were no resources to test such in the competition.

Boise State, which won top place for design:

Kansas State:

I like this turbine best for intriguing visuals. I could hypnotize myself watching it swirl. :)

James Madison University:

If I remember correctly, theirs was the only turbine to produce 10W, which was one of the early goals set by the competition, before it was scrapped months later for being unrealistic. Theirs was also the turbine that performed closest to its published power curve. I must say, I kind of appreciate the aesthetic of this turbine, or rather the lack thereof. I enjoy when engineers focus on performance and disregard aesthetics. It lends itself to an austere beauty of its own.

Cal Maritime Academy, who also opted for the vertical axis:

Northern Arizona University:

Theirs faces downwind!

The overall winner, Penn State:

Their turbine blades shattered into pieces during initial testing, so they hurriedly uploaded a CAD model to a rapid prototyping shop in Los Angeles, then drove like mad the 270 some miles each way to pick up their new blades and haul them back to competition the next day. They did admirably, coming in second in the design review, at 166 to Boise's 167.3.

University of Massachusetts Lowell:

University of Kansas, in top place for performance:

Overall, I'm impressed with all of the teams, and pleased to see all of these bright young things doing fantastic work. "Kids these days" seem to be doing just fine. I'm also impressed with the quality and cost of rapid prototyping, a technology that was in fetal stages when I was an undergrad. The first 3D printer I used had a resolution on the order of 0.1s of mm. This was in 2006. When I was an undergrad in the 90s, we had no such things at our disposal. We made prototypes by machining, by hand, dadgummit! And when we needed to make modifications, we did so with screws and inserts and by filing! Kids today make modifications via software only, and then by uploading a new model to the printer!

Crazy stuff!

1 comment:

bt said...

So cool! Thanks for sharing.