University professors and students work to test vertical-axis wind turbines

Michael Taromina, Staff Writer

With so much happening on campus, it’s hard to believe Bucknell would allow students the opportunity to study and develop scientific instrumentation that will reveal answers unknown about the state of renewable energy, but it does.

Craig Beal, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Nate Siegel, professor of mechanical engineering, have recently begun researching the assessment of a new design for a vertical-axis wind turbine invented by Harmony Turbines, a small company from Lebanon, Pa. In addition, they are also testing small scale models of a system in one of the wind tunnels operated by the mechanical engineering department.

This project is supported by the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Innovation Program which seeks to build partnerships between universities and Pennsylvania industries to increase innovation and employment in the Commonwealth of PA. Harmony Turbines was one company that reached out through the program and was matched with Bucknell. This is the second project that Siegel and Beal have advised under this program, the first being the Gilson Wakeboard project that has been well publicized by Bucknell.

While the research is being conducted by the professors, it is also being facilitated by a small group of students. Grace Lostak-Baker ’23, Brillitte Orozco ’23, Jack Falter ’24 and Ivan Franco ’25, all experienced and highly acclaimed civil or mechanical engineer majors, have been supporting the professors in roles from gathering data, evaluating conditions, building scale models and integrating them.

The PMI program is unique in that the project’s funding is for only student fellowship pay and materials needed to support the project. Therefore, Siegel and Beal focus only on advising the project, and the students are the ones who push the project forward. 

“As advisors, our role is to offer the students ideas, point out to them potential avenues for solutions and occasionally teach them subject matter that they haven’t encountered before,” Beal said. 

There has been much progress made thus far. Scale models of the Harmony Turbine are running in the wind tunnel and are collecting preliminary data about the power generated in a variety of conditions. The structure of the full scale test rig has been welded by Lostak-Baker, and assembly of the braking system, which extracts and dissipates the power from the turbine, along with power measurement are in progress. The team of researchers expect to receive the full scale turbine from Harmony and have it integrated with the work done by Lostak-Baker and Orozco by the end of the semester.

“I don’t think there have been any major obstacles that we’ve run into, but we’re very conscious as we go along that we need to be very careful since our data is going to inform decisions about the design that will impact performance and even the success of the Harmony Turbines company,” Beal said. 

Overall, the project, while complex on paper, is said to benefit society as a whole in terms of providing another solution for clean energy. 

“The project will benefit Pennsylvania by supporting a Pa. small business that may eventually employ a number of Pennsylvanians and improve the Pa. economy. The project benefits Bucknell by providing students with experiences in hands-on engineering, data collection, design, decision making, etc.,” Siegel said.

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