Friday, February 12, 2010
Wind tunnel breezes onto Portland State’s campus
$500,000 facility expected to spur innovation among wind energy companies
Portland Business Journal - by Wendy Culverwell Business Journal staff writer
A new wind tunnel at Portland State University could bolster the city’s green cache by bringing top-level researchers to the city.
The custom-designed wind tunnel is being constructed in Wisconsin and will be shipped to PSU in March. It will be installed in a first-floor lab of the school’s new engineering building, 1930 S.W. Fourth Ave.
The tunnel is generating excitement in Portland design circles. Sustainability advocates expect the $500,000 tunnel to encourage high-level research into wind energy.
Having a research-grade piece of equipment in Portland will be immensely helpful to architects and engineers, said John Breshears, associate partner with Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects.
ZGF designed rooftop wind turbines for downtown Portland’s Twelve|West office-and-apartment project for Gerding Edlen Development Co. The four wind turbines installed in 2009 were among the first to be placed in an urban setting in the U.S.
For that project, ZGF and its partners did their research at Oregon State University’s two wind tunnels. Bringing precision research equipment to Portland will encourage similar innovation.
“I don’t know that many universities or cities that have that level of research. It will enable us to do more of the kinds of research we need to do,” said Breshears, who said the firm is interested in researching wind patterns so it can install turbines at its other projects.
ZGF also is interested in using it to study green roofs, an increasingly popular feature in sustainable design. Little is known about how they interact with the environment.
NASA and the National Science Foundation are providing the initial funding to operate the equipment and direct research, though the school is looking for additional partners and projects.
Raúl Bayoán Cal, an assistant professor in PSU’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, leads the wind-tunnel project.
The effort is getting an assist from Oregon BEST, which has pledged to match any grants he secures and is linking him with industry, said David Kenney, president and executive director. The 2007 Legislature created the Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center to develop and promote Oregon’s green industry cluster.
Kenney said that as the North American home to wind energy leaders such as turbine manufacture Vestas-American Wind Technology Inc. and wind power provider Iberdrola Renewables, it’s important for Portland to gird its favorite new business sector with solid research capabilities.
“It’s a great connection,” he said.
The wind tunnel channels carefully controlled wind through a five-meter chamber where researchers duplicate the conditions they’re trying to study — temperature, pressure, ground configuration and so forth.
Lasers record how the air moves through the chamber.
Doctoral candidates will use it for high-level research, but it is also a teaching and recruitment tool to attract undergraduates and high school students to the hard sciences by giving them a hands-on experience.
“There’s nothing cooler than that,” he said.
It already has helped attract talent to Portland.
Max Gibson, a Ph.D. candidate studying under Cal, came to Portland from Mississippi by way of Canada. The wind tunnel, he said, is hugely attractive to students.
“This is going to put us on the map,” he said.