Eyes to the sky, Lance Gauer's hours turned into days until the days became seasons. He scanned the horizon in marathon stretches, squinting to spot migrating birds.
The first challenge, Lance remembers, was keeping his falcons and his hawks straight. "Before the research project got started, I had to learn how to identify birds. I had already volunteered at Hawk Ridge, but I needed to identify everything I saw - which was an extremely fun undertaking." To hone his skill, Lance went to a few more hawk watching sites. Through added experience and genuine interest, he was ready.
"Migratory Patterns of Raptors at the UMD Farm" is Lance's junior and senior year research project. It was a preemptive study as UMD considered adding a wind turbine to the farm.
“We couldn’t find a lot on this topic,” says Mindy Granley, the Office of Sustainability director. “There were claims that small wind turbines have no impact on birds, yet other organizations stated an opposite view. We saw this project as an opportunity to do some real research on what the impact really is.”
Lance meticulously logged the birds that flew over the farm and made other observations like wind speed, wind direction, and viability, but there's still no conclusive answer. The research will continue next migratory season, and when it does, it will be done in the shadow of a turbine that can actually be lowered during the migration season if research, like Lance's, deems it necessary.
But even more impressive than a transformer-like turbine, says Mindy, is what it adds to UMD.
The small wind research project, a multidisciplinary effort involving faculty, staff, and students from the sustainability, biology, geography, and engineering departments officially gets underway this Earth Day, when the motor on the 5-kilowatt wind turbine starts to hum.
Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Assistant Professor Alison Hoxie, one of the driving forces behind the project, teamed up with UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) to implement the turbine made by Windtech, in Roseville, Minn. Hoxie says she’s proud of the opportunities this partnership offers students, “Not only are we modeling sustainable agriculture and increasing UMD’s renewable energy production, this creates a land lab where students across multiple disciplines can come together and learn through an active and hands on experience.”
Randy Hanson, the founder and coordinator of UMD’s Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP Farm), calls the farm “UMD’s land lab” and believes the new turbine enhances the learning opportunities that happen there, “We’re excited to add this wind turbine to the experiential ways we are exploring sustainable challenges and solutions for our region.”
Lance is graduating this spring, so it's unlikely that he'll get to see the culmination of his neck-craning work. But even without the final verdict, Lance says the project inspired him to continue doing similar research and gave him an appreciation for the opportunity. "It was really meditative. I was there by myself, right in the middle of the farm, just this gorgeous area. I just had such a good time out there. It's just phenomenal."
|The turbine has a zero-contact gearing system, using magnets to transmit force between the input and output shafts, making it more efficient because it eliminates friction and a need for oil, and operates at lower wind speeds than traditional windmills.|
Support for the small wind turbine project was provided by: Northeast Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, Northeast Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Team, UMD Facilities Management, UMD Swenson College of Science and Engineering, UMD Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, UMD Civil Engineering, UMD EVCAA Office, UMD Strategic Plan Grant, UMD Green Revolving Fund, and a student research donation from WindTech Inc.
Written by Lori C. Melton, April 2015
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