Wind blade challenge takes to the water in third year

Posted May 13, 2011, at 6:26 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — While University of Maine researchers were in the Netherlands last month testing scale models of floating windmills in a state-of-the-art water tank, students at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington were trying out their own windmill platforms in a mud puddle behind the school.

On Friday, Team Windstorm 2000 — one of two teams from Mt. Blue —  got a chance to test their platform in the deep end of the Wallace Pool at UMaine in the first DeepCwind Consortium’s Windstorm Challenge. The water event, which featured 1/100 scale models of the floating offshore windmills that may provide the state electricity by 2030, was held in conjunction with the third annual Maine Wind Blade Challenge.

“The biggest challenge was to design something that would be stable,” team captain Devin Phelps, 14, of Farmington said shortly before the three-member team put its 30-inch-square platform, with round corners and made of PVC pipe and Plexiglas, in the pool to be buffeted by a wave machine and large fan.

Team Windstorm 2000’s platform, topped by a turbine with blades and sensors connected to UMaine computers, was not very stable compared to the model from others tested before it. It did not tip over, but it did bounce with each wave that hit the platform Friday morning. Team members most likely discussed the problem later in the day during the presentation portion of the contest, which counted toward their overall score.

Their classmates on Team Floating Ducks fared better, coming in second. Team Ace of Spades from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone took first place.

Team Syracuse of Lake Region High School in Naples placed third, Wyld Stallyns of MSSM placed fourth and Wind 2 from Westbrook High School placed fifth.

More than 300 students from nearly 30 Maine middle and high schools  competed at Friday’s events developed by the Maine Composites Alliance in partnership with Advanced Structure and Composites Center and the Maine Wind Industry Initiative. The goal of the program is to inspire student exploration of alternative energy and advanced materials by allowing students to participate in an application of math, science and engineering.

First place in this year’s Wind Blade Challenge went to a team for Jay High School. A team from Region 10 Voc Tech High School in Brunswick came in second and a team from Westbrook High School placed third.

Habib Dagher, head of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, stood Friday on the edge of the pool and observed the testing. He said the scene looked slightly familiar since Dagher recently returned to Orono after overseeing six weeks of testing three 1/50 scale models at the Marine Research Institute Netherlands.

Students from UMaine and from Maine Maritime Academy assisted with the U.S. Department of Energy-funded research project. Three different designs were buffeted with waves and wind 16 hours a day, Dagher said Friday.

“We created many perfect storms,” he said. “All three designs survived everything, including a 100-year storm like we have off the coast of Maine. We collected a lot of data to analyze.”

The DeepCwind Consortium plans by 2030 to have enough deep-water turbines in place far off the coast of Maine to generate 5 gigawatts of power for the state — roughly equivalent to the power generated by two nuclear power plants. The actual turbines would be about 300 feet high, from the surface of the ocean.

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