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March 4, 2010

Wind Turbine Senior Design at Stevens

The green technology industry is identified in a recent article as one of the fastest growing professional areas in our global economy. At Stevens, we focus on research achievements in a multitude of clean energy initiatives such as:

  • Nuclear
  • Biofuel
  • Hydrogen
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Wavepower
  • Geothermal
  • Energy harvesting from motion

This year, a Senior Design team is helping advance our knowledge of wind energy production. Their project, entitled “Whisper 200 Analysis and Remediation” seeks to enhance the efficiency of micro-turbine wind energy production in an urban environment and come up with real answers to "how much green in green.” The team is optimizing a pre-existing wind turbine on top of the Babbio building on Stevens campus.

As Dr. Marehalli G. Prasad puts it, “Alternate energy sources that do not contribute to environmental pollution are important and necessary for a green environment and energy from wind plays a vital role. This is a challenging project as the team needs to work with a wind turbine in an urban environment as opposed to a traditional rural environment. The team will also look into vibration and noise issues.”

The Whisper 200 team consists of students: Thomas Kudej, Marko Sutovic and Timothy Smith. They are advised by Dr. Prasad and Soumitra Basu of the Mechanical Engineering Department. The team originally chose this particular project because of its “usefulness on Steven’s campus and benefit to the community as a whole,” said Timothy Smith.

Research Background

In recent years the United States has added more wind energy to its electrical power grid than any other country. The challenge for the Whisper 200 team was optimizing this design for an urban environment in which wind strengths and directions vary dramatically.

To perform optimally, wind turbines need a few key things to work properly. First is wind velocity. If wind speeds are intermittent and inadequate the power output of the turbine will be low. Secondly, the direction of winds should remain relatively constant. Frequently shifting wind direction does not allow the turbine to work effectively. This is why we traditionally see wind farms in wide-open spades with few obstructions and consistent wind speeds. Finally, the team must tweak the turbine to extract the most amount of power from the least amount of activity. This involves adjusting the voltage required to turn on the turbine as well as reprogramming the inverter, which converts power generated from the wind turbine into useable energy for our power grid.

The Process

The Whisper 200 team knows that in order to make the most out of their efforts, they must find a location that offers the best possible wind conditions for turbine operation.

Their first step has been to analyze the environmental conditions on top of the Babbio building where the Whisper 200 originally existed. After obtaining architectural drawings of the rooftop location, they developed a 1:1 scale model using Solidworks. Extensive testing using fluid dynamics revealed that an insufficient amount of wind speed and constant direction is present on the Babbio Center Roof which in return causes minimal power generation.

Armed with this information, they set out to find a suitable position where the Whisper 200 could attain greater levels of wind velocity and a more consistent direction. They identified three additional locations and determined that the roof of Castle Point Apartments in Hoboken was the most desirable.

Now that the location had been selected, they needed to increase the power output of the wind turbine itself. As Thomas Kudej put it, “the main goal right now is to make this energy more applicable. Our modifications are coming in ‘how’ the turbine produces energy.” They are currently researching adjustments in areas of the turbine such as:

  • Increasing stability of the wind turbine
  • Adding noise cancellation devices
  • Using isolators to support the wind turbine
  • Increasing the height of the wind turbine
  • Funneling air towards turbine

Looking to the Future

Every one of these adjustments will be thoroughly analyzed and tested. The Whisper 200 team is taking a holistic view of wind energy production and through their senior design efforts plan on graduating from Stevens with a fully optimized wind-turbine that can be plugged directly into the electrical power grid. They will also be leaving with the knowledge that they played a key role in furthering our green technology awareness plan on taking these skills into their professional careers.

“Wind Turbines have the potential to contribute significantly to energy needs. The information collected will become a valuable knowledge repository for future engineers to build on and optimize the power generation potential from the Hudson's windy shores,” says Dr. Basu.

In speaking with the Whisper 200 team it quickly became evident that they are passionate about their research and excited about the opportunity to benefit Stevens’ campus. Additionally, they see Senior Design as an outstanding way to gain a real world understanding of our most complex engineering challenges. According to Marko Sutovic, “one of the things I am most proud of is the focus on practical aspects of this project. We are hooked on how to maximize the energy output of Whisper 200. Senior Design has also let us view the project management process that so greatly impacts our progress.”

Please visit the Mechanical Engineering Website to learn more about these students!

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