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Changing the game for small wind industry

January 18, 2016
Amber Hovey - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

EMMETSBURG - Iowa Lakes Community College has partnered with Chava Wind to install a prototype that could be a game changer in the small wind industry.

The Chava vertical axis turbine prototype is one of two. The first prototype done by Chava is in Miami, Florida.

"We are still in the certification phase," said Chava Wind majority owner Hagen Ruff. "That's why we are here in Iowa."

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The first quality of the turbine a passersby may notice is the unique design of the wind turbine, similar in shape to that of a Kitchenaid mixer. The turbine is a vertical axis turbine, which is different than the horizontal axis turbines seen throughout the state.

"The major difference between a vertical axis and a horizontal axis turbine is the axis upon which the propellers actually spin," said Ruff. "The typical propeller design that you see everywhere has a horizontal axis upon which the blades spin.

"With the vertical axis you can take wind from every side, you don't have to turn them into the wind," said Ruff. Another advantage is it has a lower tip speed ratio. The lower ratio of the blade speeds in high winds makes them a lot less noisy than the horizontal axis.

"The third advantage is people feel they are more aesthetically looking," said Ruff.

"We think that for a farm, for a small business, a warehouse or a small community, that's the sweet spot size," said Ruff. The targeting markets are those entities that use 70 to 80 megawatt hours per year.

This turbine can power four homes with ease and could positively impact isolated agriculture operations, said Dan Lutat, Iowa Lakes Community College director of sustainable energy resources and technologies.

"We're not drawing power off the grid," said Lutat. "So when this thing is turning, we are operating. To me, in terms of setting up micro grids in rural places, this could be a game changer."

"Those kind of folks have electrical needs that if the numbers are right can match this turbine really well," said Bill Haman of Iowa Energy Center. "We will be interested in watching this process."

"The future of this thing would be connecting it to a battery bank here at the farm where anytime we have excess energy, it's being stored by the batteries for use on the farm, so that we are always in a positive situation and we're not wasting that energy," said Lutat.

"One of the things that makes this turbine unique is that in the past decade we have got manufacturing technologies and materials that have allowed us to overcome some of the structural challenges with these blades," said Lutat.

The blades of the 25 KW turbine spin about 80 to 120 rpm said Lutat.

"One of the biggest things we have to overcome as we put all these things together is how do we take all the stress out of the joints in different materials that have plagued these things in the past," said Lutat. New manufacturing techniques has allowed for a better structurally and aerodynamic turbine that can produce energy without the worry of it flying apart over time.

In the past, the turbines were made with two halves that were produced in a mold and laminated together in order to form the blade.

"This is different," said Lutat. "These guys are using 100 percent carbon fiber wrap, which is a major step in the right direction in terms of structural soundness and quality."

Also unique to the turbine is that it has two large hydraulic lines at the base of the tower to raise and lower the tower, allowing major maintenances of the turbine to be done from the ground rather than climbing up.

"If this thing proves out, it is going to be a pretty good business case for that market right now that is missing a turbine that looks good and generates an appreciable amount of power," said Lutat.

One of Chava's goals is to learn from the prototype, scale it up to larger versions to fit a wider range of that market of 25 KW to 150 KW said Lutat.

"We feel that the independence that a lot of people are seeking from power dependence could be achieved," said Ruff.

Along with providing new opportunities for small wind users, the new turbine has many benefits for Iowa Lakes Community College.

"As far as a learning opportunity for us at the college, this gives us an entirely new look at wind power production for different markets," said Lutat.

"The nice part about this [project] is that this turbine will stay here and produce energy for us," said Lutat. Iowa Lakes also received a $20,000 grant from Iowa Energy Center for infrastructure work.

"We have agreed to develop some training and awareness curriculum for this so that if it proves out to be a good market here in Iowa we have a place we can bring people that need to learn about the turbine," said Lutat.

"For me this is super exciting because it's something we can manage, get our students' hands on something different and if this turns into an opportunity for the Midwest region, now we got job opportunities that students are going to want to go in," said Lutat.



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