Spotlight on Innovation: Harnessing Wind Energy at Case Farms

In May 2015, mechanical engineering majors Kelly Hacker ’17 and Matt Patten ’16 took on a project that would take months of research, design, and production: the construction of a wind turbine to help off-set electrical usage at Case Western Reserve University’s Squire Valleevue and Valley Ridge Farms. Funded by the SOURCE program, the project provided both students with invaluable hands-on learning outside the classroom. Kelly and Matt walked us through how they tackled their project, a work still in progress.

Kelly and Matt worked closely with their advisors to decide how to get the most efficiency and cost-effectiveness from their turbine’s design, an experience both students were incredibly grateful for. “Within our engineering core education, there’s really only enough time to do a brief introduction to all the important engineering concepts,” Kelly said. “It’s through a summer research projects like this that you can really spend some quality time with this information, and reflect on what you still need to find out to fully solve the problem.”

After researching the electrical needs of the farm, Kelly and Matt determined that their finished turbine could help off-set electrical usage in the farm’s mushroom cellar, which grows mushrooms for local restaurants and food service on Case’s campus. They decided on a power generation goal of 500 watts to help power the colonization rooms of the cellar, which use heating and cooling systems, lights, and electronic meters that gather data on the mushrooms and their environment.

At the end of the summer, Kelly and Matt shared their project with a group of first-year engineering students visiting the farm. The students were inspired by the use of found materials, which didn’t surprise Kelly. “For me, finding ways to reuse objects is at the heart of engineering innovation,” she said. “When trying to find new ways to reuse objects, you are not allowing yourself to slip into that ‘well this is how they’ve always done it’ mindset. You have to truly analyze what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and then try to figure out how you can do that with even the simplest of materials.”

The turbine project was fully-funded by SOURCE through a sponsorship from the Case Alumni Association, support that is not underappreciated by the students who received the stipends. “Without the stipend, I could not have worked on this project over the summer,” Kelly explained. “Because of the Case Alumni Association, I was able to stay in Cleveland full-time and focus 100% on this project. This meant I did not have to worry about finding a part-time job to help pay for rent, or split my time between Cleveland and my hometown in Illinois. The stipend was truly an integral part to the success of the project, and I am so thankful for the support.”