Monday, June 11, 2012

Let's Build an Optimization Tool for DIY Wind Power Airfoils

While I absolutely love the DIY accessibility of home wind power generation projects like the Chispito Wind Power Generator, The DIY aviation nut in me is screaming that we could all get significantly more power out of rigs like this if we had an optimization tool that would ask us our motor specs and what the wind is like where we're mounting our generators, then spit out .stl files of the right shape airfoils to get the most power out of the wind. I don't know what percent difference the average builder could expect to see from optimized blades...but based on the research paper linked at the very bottom of this post, I think it would have to be huge. The difference between an aircraft-optimized airfoil and a wind turbine optimized airfoil can be as much as 50% in normal wind conditions, and neither of those airfoils seem to have much in common with the simple   blades we DIY types make out of cut up PVC pipe.

CNC hot wire foam cutting technology is a good start for rapid prototyping custom airfoils based on .stl files. With this technology in play, I could see the production of custom wind generator blades becomming a great little microfactory business.

The past couple times I started to post something along the lines of "Dear Santa or Jesus or open source community members, next I would pretty please like the following open source tool to exist" I found what I wanted in a Google search. The most recent two examples were free, open source computational fluid dynamics code and an inexpensive, open source stereolithography machine.

This time, the closest I have found to an airfoil optimization tool for DIY wind power generation are these research papers:

  • Aerodynamic Shape Optimization of Vertical Axis Wind Turbine Using Differential Evolution: Summarizes the preliminary results of a UT Arlington Aerospace Engineering group's efforts to create an automated airfoil optimization code. Bonus: if you want to learn the basics of wind power theory, read the introduction to this paper. It'll be a great vocab lesson even if math isn't your thing. The group published this paper under the creative commons attribution license...cross your fingers that they will be just as generous with the source code they're working so hard to create.
  • Study of the Performance and Robustness of NREL and NACA Blade for Wind Turbine Applications: This study predicts that major power gains (~10-50% over the wind speed range of 3-9mph) would result from building small home-use wind turbines using the airfoils designed for horizontal axis wind turbines by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) as opposed to the currently common practice of using airfoils NASA designed for aircraft back when the agency was still called NACA. As you can see in table 1 and in figure 3 (click here, scroll down), the NREL and NACA airfoils look almost identical. I suspect that using either type would yield a vast improvement over the current DIY standard of cut up PVC pipe.
The top one looks like a great start...but I'd like to see the open source community run with it and start making better wind turbines.

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