By Edwin L. Aguirre
A team of 16 undergraduate students from the Francis College of Engineering and Manning School of Business scored second place in this year’s national Collegiate Wind Competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. This is the best showing so far for the university, which garnered third place during the inaugural competition in 2014.
The contest challenges students to identify a unique problem and to design, build and test small-scale wind turbines that can provide electrical power off the grid to address that problem. The students also have to develop and present a business plan on how to market the wind-power system to prospective clients.
A total of 12 teams from across the country, including Puerto Rico, faced off in the competition, which was held in New Orleans. Pennsylvania State University took home the top honors while Boise State University placed third. UMass Amherst’s wind turbine won in the technical design category.
“I’m really impressed by how our team came together and surmounted all challenges,” says Dana Pierce, a UMass Lowell mechanical engineering senior from Londonderry, N.H. “From day one, our goal was to get our wind turbine going, and we never let up. The team’s can-do attitude and interdisciplinary collaboration is really amazing.”
Christian Bain, a Reading senior majoring in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship, agrees. “At first, I was nervous about going against other prominent schools, but I knew hands-down that we have the hardest-working team in the field — a gritty, talented group with lots of drive and determination.”
Pierce and Bain both graduated in May. “The wind competition was the best experience of my college years,” notes Bain, who plans to pursue a career in the renewable energy sector. “It taught us the importance of teamwork, communication and meeting quality standards and deadlines, things you don’t normally get to do inside a classroom.”
Asst. Prof. Christopher Hansen (mechanical engineering) and Lecturer Michael Darish (electrical and computer engineering) served as advisers for the project, along with Assoc. Prof. David Willis (mechanical engineering), Assoc. Prof. Stephen Johnston (plastics engineering), Mechanical Engineering Department Chair and Prof. Christopher Niezrecki and UMass Lowell Innovation Hub Director and Visiting Prof. Tom O’Donnell (management and entrepreneurship).
A Mobile, Sustainable Energy Source for Soldiers
The goal of the student-designed wind turbine, called “WindHawk,” is to provide the team’s client — the U.S. Army — with innovative electricity production to meet the needs of combat soldiers stationed in remote, hostile regions like Afghanistan. The idea for this project stemmed from the students engaging with researchers at the university’s HEROES lab and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.
Right now, a big challenge for the Army is delivering diesel fuel for generators efficiently and economically, with minimal risk to the American troops protecting the fuel convoys. The students’ business plan calls for providing the Army camps with a network of ground turbines with a combined output of 4 kilowatts (kW) of electricity per day. Each turbine will be mounted on a lightweight, portable truss tower erected along the camps’ perimeter.
For forward-operating bases, an inflatable kite with dual turbines — called the Crosswind Aerial Wind System — is designed to produce 6 kW per day. The kite, which spans 13 feet wide and is tethered to the ground using a 1,640-foot-long cable, can be deployed or stowed in less than half an hour.
“Our students as a team really excelled in integrating the technical aspects of the project with the business plan and presenting them successfully to the panel of judges,” says Hansen.
“WindHawk represents a great example of students working together in an interdisciplinary fashion toward a shared goal,” says O’Donnell. “It’s a credit to the university’s academic programs. Our students totally nailed the wind-tunnel testing part of the competition, and their overall final score speaks volumes to the quality of the students’ project development and execution.”
Adds Willis: “The students made a lot of important network connections and interfaces with companies and organizations during the course of the project, which are important in the real world. These included the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center and Fort Belvoir in Virginia, which gave technical advice to the team, as well as the Federal-Fabrics-Fibers company in Lowell, next to the university’s South Campus, which provided material and guidance for the inflatable kite. We are grateful to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy, through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL], for providing funds for the project, and to Dean Hartman of the Francis College of Engineering for letting us use the MakerSpace.”
To see more photos of the 2016 Collegiate Wind Competition, visit the NREL Flickr page.