Windy Engineering: Designing Wind Turbine Blades
Wind turbines are an increasingly common sight as you drive around in
the Michigan countryside. So long as the wind is blowing at an
appropriate speed, these devices are able to transform the wind's
kinetic energy (which isn't all that useful to people) into electrical
energy (which is). In this project, you'll be designing turbine blades,
the large aerofoils that catch the wind and transfer its kinetic
energy to the electrical generator. It'll be your job to decide how they
should look, how they should be positioned around the turbine's hub, and
even how many there should be.
This project is designed to meet Michigan's HS-ETS1-1, HS-ETS1-2, and
HS-ETS1-3 engineering standards, along with many of ISTE's Student
standards. For more information, you can read our
standards summary document,
document, and the ISTE's
The best design won't just have to be good at generating electricity.
It's also important to have wind turbine blades that are durable (so
they don't break) and that use as little material as possible (so
they're not too expensive to make). You'll also need to be able to work
with your teammates, and understand your test results well enough to
explain them to others. You can see the full rubric that your teacher
will use to grade your project
Step by Step
- The STEM Explorer team will deliver an introductory lecture
first, to get you started with the project. We'll try to come to
your school in-person to kick off the project if that's
possible, but if not we'll try to do a live lecture with
videoconferencing technology, or in the worst case ask you to
watch our prerecorded video lecture.
- If at all possible, the project introduction will also
include a field trip, or virtual field trip to DTE Energy's
Renewable Energy Center in Bad Axe, MI. We're still trying to
arrange the details for this; your teacher will know whether
you're going to be able to participate.
- Next, you'll do some research on wind turbines and their
history, so you understand more about what you're supposed to
build. Our WebQuest
is designed to give you a place to start.
- By the second week of the project, you should be ready to
start learning parametric CAD modelling with Onshape. We've
tutorials for you to watch, and the STEM Explorer team will
of course be available to help you.
- Before you start modelling in Onshape, you should do some
brainstorming with your team first. You'll not only need to
decide on your blade design, but also on how many blades you'll
need us to manufacture, and perhaps even whether each blade
should be exactly the same. We recommend you draw some ideas on
paper, so when the time comes you know what you need to model in
Onshape. Your teacher may want to collect these drawings.
- Now, you should finally be ready to create your turbine
blades in Onshape. Your whole team should participate here, so
you have the best possible chance of completing what you want.
The STEM Explorer staff will be available to help you out if you
- Once you've finished your design, you should make a snapshot
of it and submit it to the STEM Explorer team. (You'll also
probably need to explain to us how many blades you'll need and
so forth.) We will then manufacture everyone's turbine blades
with our 3D printers; this part could take a long time, because
we'll usually have a lot of things to print.
- Finally, we'll get your designs tested to see how well they
work. Depending on what's possible, we may come to your school
to try them out, let you watch us test them live over
videoconference, or record video of the tests and send them to
you along with the test data. How you'll wrap up your project
after you have your test results is up to your teacher.