Wind Energy

First-Year Engineering Course Projects

The ENG1001 Wind Energy Design Module introduces first-year engineering students to the basic concepts of wind turbine design. Within this module, students construct and test a pilot-scale wind turbine, test and analyze their data, and interpret their experimental results. As part of the course, the complete unit conversions, spreadsheet calculations, ethical analysis, and engineering analyses of their designs.

ENG1001 Students testing their wind turbine design.

The ENG1100 Wind Energy Design Module builds on student’s previous wind turbine design experience. Within this module, students focus on the modeling and testing of their blade design and model the overall performance of their turbines using MATLAB. For this project, students’ designed and evaluated a new blade configuration for an existing horizontal axis wind turbine tower. Teams designed their blades using NX modeling software, printed it using a rapid-prototype machine, and tested their new blade design. See some of their design projects in motion.

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An alternative ENG1100/1101 project we tested was to have the students build and test a Strandbeest. A Strandbeest is a wind-powered walking device created by Theo Jansen. Strandbeest Design Project Handout

Example ENG1101 Strandbeest Design
Strandbeest Testing. The fan simulates the wind needed to make the Strandbeest walk.

K-12 Outreach

Our greatest success with this project has been through the Michigan Tech Summer Youth Programs. Students have about five – one hour sessions to build and test their wind turbine blades. During the first session, the students (approximately 12 per session) were introduced to the basic concepts and design choices for a Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT).  A short PowerPoint presentation and basic on-line research conducted by the students were the main sources of background.  To include the design aspect of engineering, students were encouraged to research, sketch, and otherwise plan, their blade design before construction was initiated.

The second session focused on completing design sketches, then beginning construction methods.  Student teams were supplied with assorted grades of cardboard, construction paper, ¼” wooden dowel rods, glue, and drawing materials (markers, pens, paint, glitter, etc).  Based on their design sketches, they began construction of their wind turbine blades with the intent to maximize the measured RPM’s of the wind turbine when placed three feet from a box fan. During days three and four students continued construction and completion of the wind turbines blades, with some pre-testing.  The students placed their dowel rods inside the provided hub, at their pre-determined dowel rod placement, and began testing at a low fan speed.  Each actual trial was conducted at a high fan speed. Each team tested the configuration of their blade design and counted the number of RPM’s using the phototachometer and a piece of reflective tape.

Students in the Women in Engineering (WIE) with the wind turbine blades they designed.

We also adapted the wind energy module for use by the Michigan Tech Mind Trekkers group. The Mind Trekkers organization is a student organization at Michigan Tech that travels the country sharing over 100 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) demonstrations with students and their families. All of the demonstrations are 3-5 minutes long, hands on, and exciting. For this project, the lesson plan allowed K-12 students to test three different pre-manufactured blade designs. Participants could choose which blades to use, what configuration they desired, and test to see the voltage their designs produced.

K-12 Students testing different blade shapes and configurations

If you are an educator interested in the specific activities, please contact Dr. Gretchen Hein (