NAU Students Develop Wind Turbine to Mitigate Energy Challenges during Disaster Relief Efforts
NAU engineering, business, and environmental sciences undergraduates
have collaborated on designing, building, and testing a wind turbine. The
turbine was developed to meet the goals of their customized,
market-data-derived business plan, which is focused on mitigating energy
challenges during disaster relief efforts. In May 2014 they will present their
project at the inaugural U.S. Department of Energy's Collegiate Wind
Competition during the American Wind Energy Association conference.
When typhoons, hurricanes and
earthquakes wreak havoc on communities, the efforts of humanitarian and relief
workers often are hampered by logistical challenges. Electricity can be scarce
and generators tough to acquire, limiting water pumping and purification,
sterilization of medical implements and recharging of communication devices.
A team of Northern Arizona
University undergraduates hopes to improve the resources available during emergency
responses. Two dozen students from various disciplines have joined forces to
create a lightweight, portable wind turbine that is capable of powering small
electronics and is designed for on-demand deployment.
The turbine will be evaluated during
the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Collegiate Wind Competition May 5-7, 2014, in Las Vegas. DOE selected 10 teams through a
competitive process and challenged them not only to create a wind turbine but
also to base it on a solid business plan built around market drivers. The
students are required to design everything from the blades to the turbine’s electrical
components. “A real-life design project
is very, very different from sitting down and doing homework problems,” notes team member Jonathan Pepper, an electrical engineering major.
During the competition, teams will
be judged by industry and policy experts based on (1) how their turbine
performs in a wind tunnel, (2) the content of their business plan, and (3) an oral presentation describing the
current challenges and opportunities in the wind industry.
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"The most exciting aspect of
this project, in my opinion, is to create a system that really works. The
opportunity to make use of all the engineering skills I've learned over the
last few years has been an exciting prospect, because it really gives a
physicality to my major as a whole," says team member Charlie Burge, a mechanical
Willy, instructor of mechanical
engineering at NAU and one of the team’s faculty advisers, couldn’t agree more.
“This project is definitely going to help students in their careers because it
really takes the education off the page,” Willy explains. And as team Nathan
Croswell, a mechanical engineering student, points out: “All the leadership and
design work is applicable to larger challenges.”
Karin Wadsack, project director for NAU’s Institute for Sustainable
Energy Solutions, is the team manager, and she is helping students prepare for the
Collegiate Wind Competition. "Working together with students from different
academic backgrounds with different professional interests is invaluable
experience for these students on this team. . . . it is better preparing them for life beyond
graduation,” she says.
Team Member Lukas Loehr, a business management
major, says he has appreciated learning things about alternative energy and how
to start a business, but the possible end result of the project eclipses both
of these benefits. “The most exciting part of this
project is the fact that we are creating a product that can potentially help
someone in need," Loehr says.
In addition to being managed by NAU faculty, the
team is supported by more than a dozen individuals and organizations in the