Kettering University researchers explore optimizing wind turbines with new propeller design

Our conclusion is that the wind lens is a good idea and results in a significant increase in power and efficiency.”

Four Kettering students - Andrew Rapin ‘14, Sean Commet ‘14, Adam Monroe ‘14 and Joshua Hendley ‘14 - approached Dr. Ahmad Pourmovahed, Mechanical Engineering faculty member, months before the start of their senior capstone course,  MECH 521 Energy and Environmental Systems Design. They had an idea to work together on a project that could potentially enhance the efficiency of wind turbines.

“They asked me if I wanted to teach that class and be their advisor,” Pourmovahed said. “They took the leading role in this. They defined the project and were involved in every step of it. This was entirely their idea.”

Pourmovahed was the perfect advisor because he’s taught concepts related to wind energy for the past six years in his “Energy and the Environment” class. The students’ idea: improve the efficiency by which energy is created by wind turbines by modifying their physical design.    

A typical wind turbine has three blades that form a propeller that spins with the influence of wind and in turn generates power. The research team experimented with three different modifications - wind lens, wind turbine and wind deflection ramp - to determine how the traditional propeller design can be improved to maximize electrical efficiency and power generation. After testing the results in the lab, the team concluded that there’s a “significant difference” in efficiency and power-created based on one of the proposed modifications.  

“Our conclusion is that the wind lens is a good idea and results in a significant increase in power and efficiency,” Pourmovahed said. “We saw a 50 percent improvement in efficiency.”  

The wind lens is a circular construction around the three propellers that connects them together to form a structure that resembles a steering wheel where the individual blades serve as spokes on the circular structure.

“This is not a new idea or invention. It’s an idea that has been around for a long time,” Pourmovahed said. “Other people have tested it but as far as I know, this has not been tried on a large scale turbine outside the lab.”

Pourmovahed presented the findings - Design and Testing of Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine Blades and Components to Increase Efficiency - on behalf of the students at a conference in Pisa, Italy, in May 2015. The group’s research won second place for “Presentation and Reward.”

“They wrote this paper. They went through all the different phases required for a capstone project,” Pourmovahed said. “They came up with the idea, looked at designs that are already available, looked at different methods to improve the designs, tested it and presented the results in written form. Teamwork was a big part of this project.”

The four members of the capstone project team graduated in 2014 and moved on to full-time jobs but Pourmovahed plans on personally continuing the research that the students started last spring.