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Focus on innovation: Taming the wind

Focus on innovation: Taming the wind

April 16, 2019 at 10:55am

Andres Tremante, left, and Arindam Gan Chowdhury

A wind engineer looking to safeguard homes and other buildings during violent storms had a powerful thought: What if dangerous gusts could be tamed and at the same time harnessed as usable energy? Professor Arindam Gan Chowdhury teamed up with mechanical engineer Andres Tremante, both in the  College of Engineering & Computing, to develop just such technology.

The Aerodynamic Mitigation and Power System (AMPS) is a series of turbines that can be positioned on rooftops of houses, corners of tall buildings and other structures—along the edges of large highway signs, for example—that are prone to damage under a large wind load.

The turbines vary in shape and height, from eight inches to several feet, to fit any structure in the line of potential harm. Arranged in a row of several or more, they interrupt the flow of destructive winds that might otherwise lift shingles and barrel tiles and, in worst cases, entire sections of roofs.

Aside from the windstorm protection they provide, however, AMPS goes a step further. As winds produce energy, the system can capture that energy and either feed it into a power grid or store it via batteries—a boon during blackouts.

“Wind can be a friend and an enemy,” Chowdhury said. “These devices turn wind into a friend.”

A storm that knocks out power, he explained, can generate enough electricity to keep small home appliances and lights running for a few days. But even in the absence of storms, the system can work continuously year round. According to Chowdhury, gentle five mile-per-hour winds that blow during the day and night produce energy the turbines can capture.

The combination of reducing damage from wind while turning it into a ready source of energy is unique and has drawn plenty of attention.

“It’s an approach to integrate sustainability with resilience,” Chowdhury says of the technology. While still in the testing phase, the innovation has attracted companies interested in taking it to market.