Saturday, October 31, 2009

DOE Funds Wind Turbine Innovation

There is change in the wind. It's a revolution that won't be driven simply by putting up more conventional windmill farms to generate clean energy. It's about innovation -- radical design changes that will increase efficiency and reduce the cost and size of wind turbines.

“FloDesign Wind Turbine Corporation is going to revolutionize the way we capture energy from the wind,” says CEO Stanley Kowalski III. “Our wind turbine will produce more wind energy with less impact on the environment. Our turbines are smaller, can function in a variety of climates, and can work closer to the ground.”

Kowalski [no relation to me] says his company's turbine design resembles a jet engine, an approach that allows it to capture much more wind energy while taking up less space than traditional turbines. The turbine draws on its jet engine expertise from parent company, aerospace engineering firm FloDesign. The blades are much smaller than those of existing windmills and they are surrounded by a shroud, resembling a jet engine. Wind hitting the turbine flows through the blades as well as around the shroud to create a rapid-mixing vortex, extracting 3 to 4 times as much energy from the wind as traditional turbines.

The turbine spins efficiently at lower wind speeds, and can also sustain higher speeds than conventional turbines. A fin directs the turbine to face the direction of the wind without motorized alignment and maximizes the amount of energy it receives. The smaller size of FloDesign turbine design will lower the shipping costs compared to traditional turbines and permit more turbines in a given area of land.

Watch this informative video to see the innovative design features in action (very cool!):

FloDesign Wind Turbine Corporation has built a small prototype for wind tunnel tests. On October 26, 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on awarded $8.3 million to the company. FloDesign's proposal was among 37 nationwide to receive funding totaling $151 million from DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, who's mission is to develop potential breakthrough energy technologies.

Kowalski said the company currently employs about 20 people and expects to expand to more than 75 by the end of 2010. The jobs to be added will primarily be engineering jobs, he said. “The next newsworthy event for us is the installation of our prototype, somewhere in Western Massachusetts we hope. We’re evaluating sites right now,” he said.

The Massachusetts-based company is hunting for another $25 million to deploy full scale test rigs. Last year, it landed two start-up awards from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including cash grants of $300,000. The company also received $6 million in venture capital in an initial funding round in 2008.

If everything goes according to plan, the company will start taking orders and build wind turbines that generate one megawatt.

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