Within a diverse array of innovation, Baxter Academy triumphs at the Wind Blade Challenge.


ORONO, Maine - The 6th annual Maine Wind Blade Challenge featured innovative approaches by middle and high school students that pushed the limits of wind blade designs. At the end of the day, Baxter Academy won the competition with a unique mechanical variable blade pitch design, Brunswick Region 10 Team 1 and Thornton Academy placed second and third out of 39 registered Teams.
The 2014 competition featured a number of other innovative approaches including an electric variable pitch system with an internal accelerometer developed by Freeport High School Students, spreadsheet tools created to compute best design sizes and specs, and teams using hub assemblies created with 3D printers.
The competition, held on May 2nd, was the culmination of a workforce development program that encourages exploration in innovative design, use of advanced materials, and renewable energy following STEM principles (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The challenge demands the use of academic learning applied to hands on challenges requiring real world solutions. Organized by the Maine Composites Alliance (MCA) and the Maine Ocean and Wind Industry Initiative (MOWII), the program provides advanced material kits, and also opportunities to visit and work with local composite manufacturers and institutes of higher learning. The competition was also supported by the University of Maine College of Engineering and the Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
During the competition sets of blades designed by the teams are testing for electrical output in a competitive setting. The teams must also make a presentation to explain their design and engineering processes to a panel of judges. Final scores are based on a combination of the generation output and presentation scores.
The electrical output test measure the electricity generated at wind speeds of approximately 15 MPH. Test last 2 minutes. During the first 30 seconds of the test the blades operate without any load, the next 30 seconds a load of 20 ohms in introduced by turning on a set of small lights within a model house. Additional sets of lights are turned on every 30 seconds increasing the workloads the blades must respond to, until the 2 minute time limit expires. The accumulative energy output is calculated from the test.
All elements of the event were designed to inspire creativity and innovation. Even the model house with the lights are modeled on the home the home of the character featured in the Dr. Seuss book, the Lorax, which warns of the consequences of not caring for our natural environment. The trophies for the event were created from of a technological advanced commercial scale wind blade section designed by General dynamics, built by TPI composites, and tested at the U-Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
The winning blades by the Baxter team used a novel approach with a mechanical system to vary the pitch of the blades. As the speeds of the blades increased the centrifugal forces drove a system that reduced the blade angle of pitch which reduced drag and increased the blades output. The Baxter Team also developed their own spreadsheet to help calculate the most efficient design specs for their blade. "It was worth the time to crunch the number to be sure we had the design right, before we rushed into making things," said Nick Landry of Baxter Academy
The 2014 competition include a diverse group of students, including teams of all woman, all men, mixed gender, advanced college prep students, and technology arts students. As a indication of the diversity, the top three teams represented a newly established charter school, a vocational technical school, and traditional private/public academy. Final results can be seen on the web at www.mainewindbladechallenge.com.
"This is an important workforce development program that introduces students to careers in growing technical fields with a high demand for good paying jobs," said Stephen Von Vogt of the Maine Composites Alliance. The opportunity to apply STEM principles to a real world challenge while working work with professional technicians creates unique career exploration opportunities for Maine youth.
Previous students from the competition have gone on to earn degrees at the University Of Maine College Of Engineering, Southern Maine Community College Composites Technician Program, Northern Maine Community College Wind Turbine Technician Program, and the Landing School Composite Boat Building Program. Past participants also now work professionally as engineers, composite technicians and wind turbine technicians in Maine.