Thursday, March 29, 2007

Aerotecture Visit

Bil Becker, the founder and president of Aerotecture, invited us up to his office to take a look at our designs and share some wisdom. He took us onto the roof, which is home to an array of solar panels and one of his elegant Aeroturbines. We were all impressed by the turbine; it began rotating at the slightest breeze, and was quieter than the wind itself. With scarcely any moving parts, it is simple yet rigorously engineered.

Bil was kind enough to donate a pulley wheel and two alternators, which we will be testing soon. Thank you Bil!

Watch a video I took of the Aeroturbine today and hear Bil explain how it works.


Jordan, Bob and Bil

The Aeroturbine

Beautiful gifts

Welding the Frame

The turbine itself will be housed inside of a rectangular steel frame 10 feet tall and 4 feet on either side. This morning I cut down the steel angle that Dan at the Experimental Station gave us and the steel we bought a few days ago. David made quick work of the welding, putting it together in under 2 hours. It may look like an open-sided metal box to you, but it's the first element of the project that's been physically realized.

David welding the bottom square

A textbook weld

Welding the frame

Standing tall

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Matt and I drove out to Romeoville today to pick up the steel we ordered from Chicago Tube & Iron. Apparently, it was pretty obvious to the guys that worked there that we had never been to a steel plant before, but they were still very helpful. Welding the frame commences Wednesday.

Bay number 3

"Never been to a steel plant before, huh?"

Locked and loaded

Monday, March 19, 2007


What makes the wind turbine we designed unique lies in both the turbine’s design and operation. In terms of design, the turbine is built around a vertical axis, which means that it is capable of capturing the wind from any direction. This is in contrast to the traditional “windmill” style turbine, which is built around a horizontal axis, and can only capture energy from wind blowing in the direction perpendicular to the turbine blades. There are also no “blades” on our turbine. Instead, there is one “sail,” helical in shape and made out of durable, light-weight Poly-Fiber sheeting – the same material used to cover light airplanes.

We knew we had an effective design when it turned out our design ideas had already been incorporated into an existing turbine – the aeroturbine, produced by a Chicago based firm, Aerotecture.

The unique aspect of the turbine's operation lies in its ability to store energy after it has been captured. One of the biggest criticisms of wind turbines is the intermittency of the power they generate. That is, they only generate electricity when the wind is blowing, unless you can somehow manage to store the energy while it is being generated, and then switch to the stored energy supply when the wind has stopped blowing. We intend to do this by using a flywheel connected to the turbine via a freewheel. In this way, the turbine will transfer power to the flywheel when the wind is blowing. Should the wind die down, the flywheel can continue spinning, even as the turbine slows down.

However, energy storage is not the primary goal, as it is not essential to the success of the turbine. The electricity created by the turbine can simply be directed back into the grid, whether it is produced intermittently or smoothly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Space + Equipment

Unfortunately, building a turbine is not the kind of thing you can do in a dorm room or even in your apartment. No, you need to weld, machine and drill, and none of the equipment required to do this is cheap or easy to come by. I met today with David at Midway Studios, who is graciously allowing us to work there and will be helping us weld. Now we can finally move out the heap of parts I've accumulated in the hallway of my apartment.

David also directed me to the McMaster-Carr catalog for our bearings. I'm looking at model #5967K84, the Cast Iron Flange-Mounted Steel Ball Bearing 4-Bolt SQ-Flange, for 1" Shaft Dia, 3-3/4" Base. It's on page 1095.

However, I'm also considering the Nickel-plated version on page 1098 because it might stand up better to the outdoors. Even if you're not in the market for mounted ball bearings, the McMaster-Carr catalog is worth checking out. It's like flipping through a life-size lego catalog.

More details about the project will be posted over the weekend.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's Offical!

We got our funding!


The committee has decided to fund your proposal in full ($1000). We look forward to working with you on your project. I will contact you early next quarter to speak about logistics and other details.

Thanks for your effort,
New Initiatives Committee Chair"