May 28, 2016 | By Benedict

A team of students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has used 3D printing to create blades for a wind turbine which could be used to power cell towers in rural India. The team is building the turbine for a national competition run by the American Wind Energy Association.

Image: ConnectOregonWi

What is the best way to provide affordable electricity in off-the-grid areas? The answer, it seems, is blowing in the wind. That’s the opinion of the American Wind Energy Association, anyhow, which has challenged teams of undergraduate students from 12 U.S. schools to come up with new ways of solving remote power needs. Students competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition have been encouraged to develop a cutting-edge wind-harnessing energy technology which can be put to use in rural or disconnected areas.

One of those student teams, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s delightfully named “WiscWind”, has designed a wind turbine which doesn’t require its own costly wind tower. According to the students, this aim can be achieved by installing the system on an existing tower, such as a cellphone mast, which can then use the generated energy to power itself.

WiscWind, recognizing the growing interest in solar power in the U.S., has instead focused its project abroad: on rural areas of India, to be precise. Cell towers in rural India can be powered by the grid, but since power outages are so frequent in certain areas of the country, energy-guzzling and environmentally unfriendly diesel generators are often required to supply reserve power. "If you can replace the diesel generators with renewable energy, that's a big cost savings to the customer," Scott Williams, WiscWind leader and research & education coordinator at the Wisconsin Energy Institute, told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Once it had decided on its goals, the WiscWind team set about designing an efficient turbine for use on Indian cell towers. To create the blades for this turbine, the team decided to use 3D printing—initially with a Flashforge 3D printer at the 3D printing area of Sector67, a workspace/hackerspace/makerspace in Madison, Wisconsin. These early turbine blades were 3D printed in small sections, before being used as a mold template for a set of experimental composite blades.

Shortly after 3D printing at Sector67, the team enlisted the help of Midwest Prototyping, a professional 3D printing service provider, which donated a set of full-scale 3D printed nylon blades to the team, printed with an SLS 3D printer. After testing and refining these blades, the team later returned to Midwest Prototyping, who created the final set of blades for the competition.

Image: Journal Sentinel

The WiscWind turbine design is unconventional, as it uses a vertical axis with helical (spiral) blades. It has fewer moving parts than most wind turbines, and thus requires less maintenance. “Choosing a vertical axis was definitely giving us a challenge right off the bat, but it also shows our confidence in our team,” Alex LeBrun, a member of WiscWind, told Connect Oregon Wi.

The U.S. Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition is taking place this week, May 23-26, in New Orleans. WiscWind knows that competition will be fierce, but its 3D printed system has already stormed to victory in another innovation contest: the team was recently awarded the “People’s Choice” and “Best Prototype” awards at UW-Madison’s Qualcomm Innovation Competition. The winning design for the Collegiate Wind Competition will be put on display in the Department of Energy’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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