Engineering students at Bucks County Community College have developed an alternative energy generator — a wind turbine that takes up less space than existing ones, recycles water and doesn’t threaten wildlife.
PECO recently awarded the team $10,000 to expand the project, the Wind Catcher Max.
It was a top 10 finalist at this summer’s National Science Foundation’s Community College Innovation Challenge.
Like its name implies, the Wind Catcher Max catches and funnels wind into the tower. Then it uses water to increase wind speed.
“Traditional wind turbines are not contained in towers,” said sophomore Andrew Sooy, a design intern on the team. “They’re actually standing up and rotate around. Ours is contained sort of like a steam turbine, but it’s utilizing wind and injection of water.”
Mechanical engineering student Pavel Lelyukh came up with the concept a year and a half ago in the school’s engineering club, the Society of Bucks Engineers.
Although he transferred to Drexel University last semester, he still works on the Bucks County Community College project team. He says the PECO award surprised him.
“I wasn’t expecting this because it was just an idea I had,” the 20-year-old said. “I wasn’t expecting like a company to actually fund feasibility studies for us to research on this concept. And I think that’s really big.”
School officials say the PECO grant will allow the students to develop a prototype, conduct a feasibility study and investigate patent licensing.
But the road to innovation was paved with frustrations.
Bucks County Community College physics professor Christine Delahanty, the team’s faculty mentor, says her students learned to overcome those setbacks.
“I wanted the students to get a real-world slap in the face,” she said. “I wanted them to troubleshoot. I wanted them to work as a team. They had many struggles throughout the course of preparing for this challenge.”
The funding has allowed more students to join the team, including Sooy, an electrical engineering major.
“After the NSF Challenge, I saw their presentation,” the Bucks County native said. “I thought the model and the actual concept was quite interesting because it merges multiple principles of fluid dynamics and should increase the efficiency of the overall system.”
PECO provides an annual grant for STEM education to area community colleges. Each college selects how to use those funds.
“We are always big on innovation and finding new ways to create energy and provide energy,” said Alexandra Coppadge, a PECO senior communications specialist. “The Wind Catcher Max is something that is definitely — while it’s still in its infancy stages — something that is new and interesting and provides students the opportunity to learn and grow, whether it be in exploring the creation of a project or learning more of the nuts and bolts as to how to get a project to completion and to market.”
PECO will serve as turbine consultants and invited the students to the utility’s innovation lab.
Delahanty says the feasibility study will give students wide-ranging experience from innovation and design to teamwork and patenting.
“They’re going to see if anybody wants this thing,” the physics professor said. “Does anybody want it in their backyard? Does anybody want it on their farm? Is it feasible? We’re going to investigate licensing of patents and the patent process.”
For project creator Lelyukh the big-picture gains were as valuable as hands-on learning.
“What I really learned is what to consider when you’re thinking of ideas and how you would go about doing research,” he said. “I think that’s a really good learning experience for me and just analyzing ideas and how they work.”
The engineering students collaborated with art students to create a video entry for their NSF Innovation Challenge.
They’ll continue that interdisciplinary trend by partnering with business students for the college’s Start Me Up Challenge, a contest for aspiring entrepreneurs to be funded and mentored by local investors. The business students will help the team with market analysis and developing their business proposal and project budget.