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New Interdisciplinary Course Prepares 28 UMass Undergrads for National Wind Energy Competition

Collegiate Wind Competition Sign

An interdisciplinary group of undergraduate students from various departments on campus is currently taking a comprehensive, two-semester course as part of the 2016 Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition. In order for the UMass students to compete in the national contest, the course will prepare them to develop a business plan for a novel wind turbine used in off-grid applications, and then it will train them to design, build, and test that turbine. During the spring of 2015, the DOE selected UMass Amherst as one of 12 colleges and universities nationwide to compete in the contest. Collegiate Wind Competition

The two professors who are teaching the groundbreaking coursework are Matthew Lackner from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department and Birton Cowden from the Isenberg School of Management. Along with the two primary faculty instructors, the students will also engage with professional mentors from Black Island Wind Turbine LLC, as well as other faculty and graduate students from UMass.

As Lackner said, “It's pretty exciting, we have 28 students from three departments working on this project, culminating in a business plan and technical competition at a national conference in New Orleans this May.”

Lackner added that the DOE considers this its flagship workforce development activity and a critical aspect of educating the future leaders of the U.S. wind energy industry.

The Collegiate Wind Competition challenges teams of undergraduate students to design and build a model wind turbine based on market research and siting considerations, develop a business plan to market their product, and test their turbine against a set of rigorous performance criteria. Bringing together the next generation of wind energy pioneers with today's industry leaders, the Collegiate Wind Competition 2016 will be judged during the annual American Wind Energy Association WINDPOWER Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans from May 23 to 26, 2016.

The students in the course include 10 from Isenberg, 17 from MIE, and one from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Most students are seniors, with a few juniors and sophomores.

During the first semester, the students will identify a market opportunity, conduct a customer identification and survey process, develop a conceptual wind-turbine design, and develop a market-deployment strategy. A mid-project report will be sent to DOE at this point. In the second semester, the students will refine their business plan and financial projections and build and test a small wind turbine in the wind tunnel on campus. A final written report will be sent to DOE prior to the competition.

A critical feature of the course will be forming interdisciplinary teams of students to tackle various aspects of the project, such as designing and building blades, designing and constructing the electrical and control system, branding and marketing, and developing the business plan.

UMass Amherst is providing substantial in-kind support for this project, including use of the MIE Innovation (machine) Shop, the staff time of machinists in the shop, access to tools and 3D printers, access to the wind tunnel, and staff support for booking travel and shipping the turbine to the competition.

At the final competition judging in New Orleans, the collegiate teams will be evaluated on their written report, business and technical presentation, turbine performance testing in a wind tunnel, and deployment pitch.

UMass Amherst was undoubtedly chosen to participate in the DOE Collegiate Wind Competition because of its long, pioneering history in wind energy research and education. UMass is home to the prestigious Wind Energy Center, which is celebrating its 41st anniversary in 2015, and is the oldest and largest wind energy program in the U.S.

UMass Amherst also operates an NSF-funded IGERT program in Offshore Wind Energy Engineering, Environmental Impacts, and Policy. This graduate program is focused on education and research applied to an integrated method of design and siting for offshore wind turbines. It has been successful at developing a broad community of researchers with a common goal, and has led to innovative research projects that cut across boundaries, such as electrical engineers and bat biologists collaborating on methodologies for mitigating bat fatalities from wind turbines, or policy, engineering, and environmental students collaborating to develop an online GIS system to support offshore planning.

In addition, UMass Amherst recently received $357,920 in funding from the NSF to support a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in “Offshore Wind Energy: Solving the Engineering, Environmental & Socio-Economic Challenges.” For three summers, this REU will annually support 10 undergraduates interested in exploring research in a wide range of offshore wind-energy topics, including engineering, wildlife ecology, and policy. (October 2015)