Central Virginia Wind Energy & Manufacturing and researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA) are designing a new turbine they anticipate will harness wind power in their home state and across the country.

The 9-foot prototype wind turbine, dubbed the Blade Runner 5000, is a vertical axis rotating turbine designed to be smaller, cheaper and more efficient. “The idea is that the turbine could power a farm or maybe half a dozen homes,” says Paul Allaire, a professor of mechanical engineering at UVA and chief of the university’s Jefferson Wind Energy Institute.

Besides the noticeable rotational difference (most turbines have a horizontal rotating axis), the Blade Runner 5000 is designed to generate 50 kilowatts (KW) of power and is meant to harness more moderate winds found inland as opposed to offshore turbines that generate three megawatts (MW) of power and harness stronger wind speeds.

The vertical turbine will use magnetic bearings to eliminate gear box and rolling element bearings, explains Jason Ivey of Central Virginia Wind Energy & Manufacturing. “We are eliminating moving parts, which often create friction and forces that result in turbine failures,” he says.

Eagle Aviation, based in Hampton, Va., was contracted to manufacture the composite helical-like blades in 20-foot sections. The prototype was then assembled in UVA’s Aerospace Research Laboratory, and is currently undergoing testing in the laboratory’s wind tunnel. The tunnel generates wind speeds up to approximately 12 mph and will be used to show how the vertical wind turbine could rotate and work. “We want a year’s worth of solid real-time data, which we can then use to market the turbine to areas where it is hard to get large cranes to install a tower; for example, on remote islands, in small villages and on government military bases,” says Ivey.

Allaire adds that the testing will help the group figure out the optimal blade shape, because just like a wing, the blades have a curvature on top and the bottom which creates lift and drag. “Finding the right combination of lift and drag will be key to a successful vertical turbine,” he says.

The final version is expected to stand 150 feet tall, measure 15 feet in diameter and cost an estimated $235,000. The group is currently looking for sponsors, venture capitalists or others willing to invest in the new technology. “Virginia has not done grants for wind energy,” says Allaire. “Doing a smaller wind turbine is a whole different ball game. We are working with Congressman Tom Periello to see what he can do to help. So far we’ve talked to several power companies to see if they’d be interested. The feedback we’ve received is that the energy companies would be interested if a certain price break was guaranteed if they produced X amount of dollars from wind energy.”