Maine challenges students in wind blade competition

High school competition has students design wind blades to maximize energy generation.

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Eighteen Maine high schools and vocational centers recently took part in the first ever Maine High School Wind Blade Challenge. The statewide competition encouraged students and teachers to explore the use and application of composite materials in expanding alternative-energy industries. The Challenge, sponsored by the Maine North Star Alliance Initiative and the Maine Composites Alliance (Portland, Maine), hosted a total of 31 teams. Each attempted to design the most efficient wind blade possible from identical kits of composite materials provided by Maine-based suppliers, including Harbor Technologies Inc. and OCV Technical Fabrics, both of Brunswick. Students researched wind blade design and performance and, with help from four Maine composites institutions, built the blades, using vacuum infusion molding. According to competition rules, blade length could not exceed 18 inches/457 mm long, with a maximum assembled rotor diameter of 42 inches/1,067 mm. Maine’s Gov. John Baldacci was on hand at the high-profile event, as all wind blades were tested at wind speeds of 15 to 20 mph on May 15 at the University of Maine’s Advanced Engineered Wood and Composite (AEWC) Center in Orono.

“The Wind Blade Challenge is the first time students from across Maine can leverage their skills ... in a real-world project,” says Paul Williamson, program director, Maine High School Wind Blade Challenge. Blades were mounted on a universal testing hub and power output was measured. The winning team, Chris Pickering and Blaine West from Sumner Memorial High School (East Sullivan, Maine), built a five-bladed rotor that earned the highest power-generation scores: 66.56 Watt/minutes and peak Watts of 23.91. Their prize? If the two are accepted to the University of Maine, each is eligible to work at the AEWC lab 20 hours a week during school and full-time during breaks, defraying the cost of his education over four years by more than $50,000.