CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Everyone has seen a windmill, those ubiquitous renewable energy turbines that are popping up in back yards across southern New Jersey.
But physics teacher Joe Schmidt challenged his green engineering class at Cape May Technical High School this year to design and build their own windmills without the typical spinning propeller blades.
The class came up with six designs to generate 500 watts by capturing Cape May County’s typical 20-knot winds.
More remarkable, they made them using scraps of junk.
These students are graduating in the midst of a renewable-energy renaissance. And they see the potential in a burgeoning field that is likely to spawn more household applications, such as these backyard windmills.
Southern New Jersey is on the forefront of the nation’s renewable energy industry. The Atlantic County Utilities Authority built the state’s first commercial wind farm in 2005 in Atlantic City. Cape May-based Fishermen’s Energy hopes to build the nation’s first offshore wind farm off Atlantic City.
And several other companies are looking to build wind farms off the New Jersey coastline.
But as part of the school project, the students conjured ideas about how their creations could be incorporated into everyday life. Some envisioned putting the windmills on piles at marinas or docks.
“Totally, we were thinking we could paint ours and, if it was aesthetically pleasing, make it a lawn ornament,” senior Carly Heminway, of Dennis Township, said.
Working on their design with folded paper, they decided to capitalize on a simple pinwheel.
“It’s a child’s toy on a bigger scale,” she said. “But the finished design was completely different from where we started.”
Others used a double-helix concept with blades that capture the wind from all directions like a continuous funnel.
Senior Trevor MacCormack, 17, of Middle Township, plans to study mechanical engineering at Rutgers University. He wants to specialize in green engineering.
“This field can only grow. We want to come up with effective ways of harnessing energy from renewable sources,” he said.
Schmidt bought a generator the class will connect to each windmill to determine how much energy each can produce and which is most efficient.
“We built them totally from scratch,” senior Bill Blankley said. “You can use the space for advertising or paint them with the school colors.”
His team put their design through engineering stress tests to determine whether they could withstand certain wind speeds.
Heminway said she was impressed that her classmates came up with so many different functioning designs out of junk without the aid of sophisticated computer modeling or wind-tunnel tests.
“We’re just one class, and we came up with all these out of recycled material,” Heminway said. “Think about the efficiency we could reach if we had technology for a bigger project.”
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