ORONO, Maine — Work on their entry for the Maine Wind Blade Challenge didn’t officially start until earlier this year.
But as far back as the fall semester, Sumner High School seniors Chris Pickering and Blaine West were already thinking about how they could improve upon the entry that won them last year’s challenge.
Using a different structure and other modifications, Pickering and West again beat out the competition, coming up with the wind blade prototype that generated the most power during a testing session Friday at the University of Maine field house.
It was the second year of the competition, which pits high school teams against each other for the shot at winning four years of student employment as a research assistant at UMaine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites, Advanced Structures and Composites Center, a prize worth $50,000. Neither Pickering nor West has plans to attend the university, but they were nevertheless excited to repeat.
The wind blade challenge organizers, including UMaine’s AWEC center and institutions such as the Maine Composites Alliance, hope participating students will gain an understanding of the growing wind-power technology in Maine that has received millions of dollars in federal and state funding.
UMaine and others 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.
“We want you all to think about how you can participate in transforming our economy,” composite center director Habib Dagher told 45 teams of students from 20 different Maine high schools or technical centers who signed up to participate in the challenge’s second year. Some schools brought more than one team.
Organizers added this year a scoring element in the form of a presentation that each team made to a panel of judges.
The student teams were each sent a kit of materials, including foam blocks, fiberglass cloth and a resin with which they infused the prototype blades once they were formed. Blades could not exceed 18 inches in length or 42 inches in diameter for the entire assembly.
Students also attached a hub to the prototype in order to hook up the blades to UMaine’s computer data acquisition system.
The competition scoring was based on, in addition to the students’ presentation, the total power produced in the three-minute time interval and the peak wattage recorded during the testing. Final scores were not available Friday, but Pickering and West’s prototype produced a maximum wattage of 24.99.
A Mount Desert Island team of Rebecca Peterson, Sophia Krevans and Emily Dunbar finished second, while a team made up of Finn Hanson, Myles Achey and Beata Hechtova from Forest Hills High in Jackman came in third.
The Sumner duo, who changed their design this year from a five-blade setup to three blades, made sure their blades didn’t wobble, as they did last year.
“They weren’t strong enough,” Pickering said. “This year we put more layers of fiberglass on them.”
An all-freshmen team from Old Town, which finished 10th overall, got a nice surprise in early testing.
During pre-challenge testing Friday, the prototype blades made by Sammy Emerson, Carlie-Rae Hamilton and Abby Grindle would not move at all. The girls unscrewed the blades and reattached them, using duct tape to create some tilt in the blades.
Those few adjustments made the difference during the actual testing session, when their model put out at 10.16-peak wattage.
“It was luck,” Hamilton said. “Luck and duct tape.”