When four mechanical engineering students were looking for a senior-year design project at Kansas University, they had three criteria in mind.
It had to be something that had never been done at KU, incorporate alternative energy and help other people. The end result is a wind turbine made of wood, trash barrels, car parts and other items that can easily be scavenged in Third World countries.
“We are looking at it as a philanthropic endeavor,” Brian Blackwell said. “We could still get all the engineering work, but we didn’t want something that would sit and never be used again.”
The wind turbine spins on West Campus behind another KU student project, the Center for Design Research building being constructed by Studio 804.
This winter, the group assembled the turbine just as it would be done in developing countries: with hand tools. The frame is built out of wood, the blades are concave pieces of trash barrels while flanges, pipes, a car axle and stubs hold the turbine together.
“Since the parts are recyclable and they aren’t brand new, we’ve had some troubles with failures,” Nick Garrett said. “But so far those failures are ones we have been able to correct. So our turbine is only getting better.”
Along with Blackwell and Garrett, Brian Larkin and Tommy Hirst are working on the project.
Soon, the group will put up more aerodynamic blades made from wood and covered in tarp.
At wind speeds of 25 miles per hour, the turbine can generate as much as 500 watts of electricity. The energy would then be stored in a car battery that could be used to keep the lights on longer or to power freezers and refrigerators.
The students had South American countries in mind when they designed the turbine because of wind speeds on the continent and populations with fairly easy access to old car parts.
With the semester about to end and several hiccups along the way, the group plans to hand the project over to a group of incoming seniors.
And they fully intend to see the turbines built in Third World countries.
“That’s the hope,” Garrett said.