By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public AffairsApril 1, 2016
NATICK, Mass. (April 4, 2016) -- Sometimes a collaboration can be a windfall for all involved -- especially if that collaboration involves helping college students to develop wind-power technologies that may benefit the Soldier in the future.
Students from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, who are preparing to enter a collegiate wind turbine design competition, looked to experts at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Army Project Manager -- Expeditionary Energy & Sustainment Systems for both business and technical advice.
Dr. David J. Willis, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UMass Lowell, is leading the team of 18 business and engineering students, who are developing a wind-based energy generation system that uses a kite-based turbine. The students are looking to develop an off-the-grid energy solution.
"By making connections with real-world potential customers such as NSRDEC, the University of Massachusetts Lowell Collegiate Wind Competition Team was better able to understand the real-world product design and development process," said Willis. "NSRDEC personnel were instrumental in helping the students understand the Army's fundamental needs in renewable energy and in giving students a better understanding of actual deployment conditions and constraints. Ultimately, these discussions have driven the design of a novel wind energy solution that the students hope will impress the competition judges and potentially lead to a real product in the future."
The UMass Lowell team's wind turbine project is funded by a National Renewable Energy Laboratory Collegiate Wind Competition grant and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. (The team's work does not necessarily represent the views of these funding organizations.)
According to David Roy, an NSRDEC project director, NSRDEC guidance focused on technical challenges, functionality and user interface, transportability, development of technical data packages, and licensing rights.
"The students are from the engineering and business departments," said Roy. "They are working on a wind-based energy production technology that uses a kite. But in order for them to go into this multi-school competition, which is kind of like an academic "Shark Tank," they are looking at not just the engineering aspects of it but also the business aspects for their proposal submission."
The technology the students are investigating can be applied to Army base camps in austere or remote environments.
"We were asked to provide some guidance for base camps since we are already working on a wind project," said NSRDEC's Laura Biszko.
"The students are working to develop an alternative source of reliable power," said Roy. "This type of technology would cut down on logistics and reduce the need to get fuel to Soldiers in remote environments. Along with the safety, logistics and environmental benefits of these types of technologies, they also help improve the operational endurance of small units in austere environments."
"We have an interest in renewable energy applications to enable base camps to operate more autonomously with fewer resupplies," said John Viggato, Assistant Product Manager, Shelter Systems. "Shorter logistic trains make for safer operations and put less Soldiers in harm's way doing resupplies. It enables the warfighter to be more self-sufficient."
The UMass Lowell team's wind project could potentially provide some valuable research for the Army's wind and renewable energy efforts. This technology could eventually be used at the squad level as an alternative to diesel engine generators 5 kilowatts and below. The technology may also have commercial applications, as well as applications for humanitarian and disaster relief.
"It's a holistic project," said Viggato. "It's allowing the student engineers the opportunity to take a technology they are developing and get a real-world application for it. It also allows the business majors the chance to develop a business plan to make a new technology viable and get it to market. Then, we as a potential customer can outline our specific needs as a possible direction for them to go. It brings all the organizations together."
NSRDEC's advising of the team is part of a larger joint research and development initiative between NSRDEC and UMass Lowell. Through a program called Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers, or HEROES, engineers and scientists from NSRDEC and faculty members and students from UMass Lowell are working together to solve complex scientific and engineering challenges to help improve life for the nation's warfighters.
"Partnering with academia is one of our cornerstones at NSRDEC," said Roy. "We are providing engineering and program management advice to an academic program. It gives the students positive reinforcement and access to information they might not have otherwise."
"HEROES is a win-win for all -- win for NSRDEC scientists to tap into UML faculty, students, expertise and facilities to create new solutions to Soldier needs; win for UML faculty to apply their valuable academic research and expose their students to real-world military problems; and most importantly, a win for our Soldiers, who will be the benefactors of cutting-edge research and innovation to improve their safety, agility and sustainability in the field," said Lynne Samuelson, Ph.D., NSRDEC co-director of the HEROES program.
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.