Developers enhance turbines

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University researchers create efficient turbine for low-winded locales

University researchers are developing a smaller, more efficient wind turbine uniquely designed to generate power in low-wind-speed areas such as Virginia.

Researchers completed a smaller-size prototype of the wind turbine last month, said Mechanical Engineering Prof. Jim Durand, who also serves as co-director of the Jefferson Wind Energy Institute. The group is still seeking funding to create a full-size model that will have blades that extend 100 feet in diameter and spin along a vertical axis. Most wind turbines in operation today have much larger blades that extend up to 200 feet and spin along a horizontal axis, he said, adding that the design with longer blades only works in areas with frequent, high-gusting winds — an infrequent occurrence in the commonwealth.

“Most of the larger turbines are set for 14 to 15 miles per hour,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get something that will work effectively in the 11 to 12 mph range.”

The design also will feature a turbine shaft levitated with magnets, which will reduce friction and consequently increase efficiency, Durand said. The shaft will generate power directly without the use of a gearbox, which would increase revolution speed and the quantity of power produced but would also have the propensity to break down frequently.

The overall design, Durand said, “is a combination of things that are aimed and optimized for Virginia’s low wind speeds.”

The project is a joint venture with Central Virginia Wind Energy & Manufacturing, a Charlottesville-based company that first approached the University to help develop a turbine suited for Virginia.

“One of the things that [the Institute] is about is helping companies to solve problems in the wind area,” Durand said. “So sometimes that takes the form of helping them to develop their technology or it may take the form of helping them solve a particular problem.”

CVAWE President Jason Ivey said his company is seeking to install the turbine nationwide after the design work and testing are completed.

“Our challenge has been to create a turbine that can harvest wind in those [low wind-speed] scenarios, not just limited to the state of Virginia,” he said.

The turbine — called the Blade Runner 5000 — will produce around 50 kilowatts at wind speeds of 20 mph, Durand said. This is much less power than larger turbines often produce, he said, adding that the new system therefore will be able to transfer power to existing power grids without the installation of special transmission lines. This type of system will be ideal for a commercial or business establishment, as it can connect directly to a group of users within the grid, he said.

The company is looking forward to these types of applications, Ivey said, as the Blade Runner 5000 moves through the design and development processes.

“Thinking of the system as a whole, it can have a large impact not only physically, but environmentally,” he said. “I think the return on investment could be far superior to what’s available right now.”

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