ORONO, Maine — With the press of a button, Gov. John Baldacci and a group of four students from Old Town High School blew life into a contest the University of Maine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composite Center and the Maine Composites Alliance hope will increase interest in wind-blade technology.
More than 100 students from 13 high schools around Maine participated Friday in the Maine Wind Blade Challenge, the first competition of its kind in Maine and likely in the rest of the country. The challenge pitted the high school teams against each other as they tested their own prototypes for wind turbines.
The composite industry and institutions such as the AEWC and the composites alliance are developing blades made of composite material which could theoretically be placed on offshore towers to take advantage of strong winds in areas such as the Gulf of Maine.
“You are the pioneers. You’re the beginners here,” Baldacci said before the competition began. “You’re going to be the founding mothers and fathers for the composite industry for the future of the state of Maine. … It’s cutting edge, it’s really leading the nation, and we need to continue to support it.”
The student teams were each sent a kit of composite materials to design a prototype blade.
The teams were required to build the blades no longer than 18 inches and the turbines could be no greater than 42 inches in diameter. The teams also wrapped their blades with a fiberglass cloth and infused them with a resin that hardened the blades.
The goal was to design a blade that would generate the most wattage.
“They could do whatever they wanted for the geometry of the blade, the aerodynamics of the blade,” said AEWC Director Habib Dagher. “The goal is lightness and aerodynamics. The lighter it is, the more aerodynamic it is and the more energy you can generate. If the blade’s too heavy, it’s not going to put out much energy. And [if] the geometry of the blade is not utilized, you lose out, too.”
Each prototype was measured for three minutes Friday using UMaine’s computer data acquisition system. The competition scoring was based on the total power produced in the three-minute time interval and the peak wattage recorded during the testing.
The Old Town team was the first to test their blades. Baldacci watched while the team of seniors Erin St. Peter, Molly Segee, Ryan Gilman and Chad Paradis attached the hub of their prototype to the measuring device.
After the prototype was attached, Baldacci started up a machine which generated 15-20 mile-per-hour winds. The blades started to spin, generating energy, and the Old Town team stood with the governor as they watched their numbers on a screen.
The scoring was based on the total power produced during the three-minute testing interval, determined by the watts produced continuously during the three minutes and then multiplied by the three-minute testing time.
Old Town finished with a final number of 37.61, good for third place. Sumner Memorial High School of East Sullivan’s Team 1 was first with a score of 66.56 and Machias Memorial was second with 42.88.
Old Town’s foursome started work on their wind blades earlier this semester as each student came up with a blade prototype. The final version used Friday turned out to be a combination of ideas from St. Peter’s and Gilman’s original works.
“We tested them, decided on which one we thought would be best, and came up with this design,” Gilman said.
Other participating schools were Falmouth, Machias Memorial, Jay, Ellsworth, Upper Kennebec Valley in Bingham, Shead of Eastport, Sanford Regional Vocational Center, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Lewiston, Brunswick, and Maine Vocational Region 10 in Brunswick.
“It was a great opportunity for them to get the whole cycle of design from start to finish,” said Lisa Schultz, a second-year graduate student in UMaine’s master of science in teaching program who worked with the Old Town team as a student teacher in teacher Kari White’s classroom.
The judges were Maine Composites Alliance Executive Director Steve Von Vogt, UMaine Assistant Vice President for Research Jake Ward and AEWC Assistant Director Bob Lindyberg.