UMass Amherst Students’ Disaster Relief Wind Turbine Concept Wins at National Collegiate Wind Competition

Photo by Marina Di Cocco
Photo by Marina Di Cocco
Photo by Marina Di Cocco
Photo by Marina Di Cocco

AMHERST, Mass. – Students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst received a Best Technical Design award at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 2016 Collegiate Wind Competition held May 24 in New Orleans.

The Wind Energy Competition challenges teams of undergraduates to design and build a scale-model wind turbine based on market research and siting considerations, develop a business plan to market their product, and test their turbine against a set of rigorous performance criteria.

The award is the culmination of efforts by students who were enrolled in a two-semester interdisciplinary course that centered around the competition, says Matthew Lackner, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, who developed the class with Birton Cowden, associate director of the Berthiaume Center of Entrepreneurship in the Isenberg School of Management.

“It is very exciting,” Lackner says, “Students in the class had to first find a real world problem and evaluate if a wind turbine was applicable, then develop concepts, and design a full scale and model system.”

The class developed a wind turbine that has potential lifesaving capabilities, says Lackner. “After students did research, the class narrowed down concepts and arrived at the water treatment idea for use during disasters. The students had a really innovative idea to couple these systems within a shipping container for rapid deployment.”

The students’ wind turbine powers a reverse-osmosis water purification unit that is intended to provide clean water after a natural disaster or during refugee situations when electricity is scarce or unavailable. The students’ business plan and design allows for easy shipping to targeted areas within two weeks of an event and once on-site can be installed within 12 hours.

The students competed against teams from 12 universities during the DOE competition held at the annual American Wind Energy Association Windpower Conference. The competition consisted of aerodynamic, mechanical, and electrical design, analysis of the turbine and load system’s performance, as well as both writing a report and an oral presentation.

The challenge had a big impact on Marina Di Cocco, who along with other students from the College of Engineering and Isenberg School of Management took Lackner and Cowden’s course. She says, “the lessons I learned while working together and competing in an interdisciplinary team competition is something I will take with me as I enter into the real world.”

UMass Amherst offers students over 300 courses relating to sustainability. The campus is home to a variety of green buildings and is currently constructing one of the largest mass timber structures in the United States. In 2015, the university was ranked among Top 50 Green Colleges by Princeton Review.

Headquartered in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship is a cross-campus network of scholars, innovators and entrepreneurs. The center was established to support research, education and practice and facilitate the transformation of ideas into business realities.

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