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Optimizing Windmill Blade Efficiency

Lab Report Abstract

Windmills convert the wind into either mechanical or electrical energy. If the efficiency of a windmill can be increased, then the need for expensive, polluting power generators will be reduced. The tip speed ratio of a windmill blade is directly proportional to the energy output. If the shape of a blade can be altered to increase the tip speed ratio, windmill performance increases. If the blade's surface can be coated to increase the tip speed ratio, windmill performance also increases. This project examined different blade shapes to determine the optimum shape for blades rotating on horizontal axes. Different blade shapes were also tested for blades rotated on a vertical axis. Finally, different surface treatments were tested to determine if surface treatment could enhance blade performance. Other areas were identified for additional research.

Problem Statement
Windmills are actually, in a sense, transducers. They can convert the wind into either mechanical or electrical energy. If the efficiency of the windmill can be increased, then the need for expensive, polluting, power generators will be reduced. As a result, we would be helping the environment and economy at the same time.


As the shape of windmill blades becomes more aerodynamically efficient, the tip-speed ratio will increase resulting in better performance. Surface treatment can affect the blade's performance.

The purpose of this project is to increase the efficiency of the windmill. To do this it seems necessary to increase the tip speed ratio. Hopefully, the shape of the blades will positively affect the top speed ratio and/or overall efficiency of the windmill. Once the optimum blade shape has been determined, blades of the same shape will be treated with different coatings to determine if performance can be increased.

Independent Variables: 1. Wind Speed This is very important to the productivity of a windmill. The wind turbine only generates power with the wind. The wind rotates the axis (horizontal or vertical) and causes the shaft on the generator to sweep past the magnetic coils creating an electric current. Variable Control This will be controlled by using the same artificial wind source; e.g., a conventional electric fan or hair dryer. The orientation and distance of the wind source will be stationary and shall remain constant in relation to the windmill blades. 2. Type of Windmill This is important because a different brand of windmill may be based on different principles than others. Some windmills may be designed for torque, while others are designed for tip speed ratio. A vertical axis windmill and a horizontal axis windmill are very different and are used for different things. A vertical axis is mainly used for torque, and a horizontal is used for speed. Variable Control This will be controlled by using the same constructed model for all measurements.

3. Blade Length This is important because the length of the blade is directly proportional to the swept area. Larger blades have a greater swept area and thus catch more wind with each revolution. Because of this, they may also have more torque. Variable Control A single blade pattern will be used to prescribe the general size and shape of the blades. The length and width will remain constant, at 2.5 inches long and half an inch wide. 4. Tower Height The height of the tower [affects] the windmill immensely. The higher a windmill is, the more productive it will be due to the fact that as the altitude increases so does the wind speed. Variable Control The same tower will be used for all measurements. The model constructed was 14 inches tall. 5. Tower Design Some towers are stronger than others. Towers are important in the construction of the windmill because not only do they have to support the windmill, but they must also be subject to their own weight and the drag of the wind. If a weak tower is subject to these elements, then it will surely collapse. Therefore, the towers must be identical so as to insure a fair comparison. Variable Control The tower was constructed using two reinforced cardboard model rocket fuselages. The base of the tower was constructed of balsa wood; the top platform supporting the generator was also constructed of balsa wood. The entire tower was painted with red enamel spray paint for appearance only. 6. Brand of Generator The type of generator is important because the energy efficiency of a generator may vary among different brands. Variable Control The windmill tower was equipped with a MS-50 airplane/car DC motor manufactured in Taiwan. 7. Type of Generator

The type of generator is important because the amount and type of power generated may vary among different types. Some generators generate AC while others generate DC. To make them compatible for comparison a transducer must be used, wasting valuable money and quite possibly time. Variable Control Only one DC generator was used in the experiment.

Experimental Variables: 1. Shape of Blade This is important because if an optimum blade shape is discovered, then the overall productivity of a windmill can be increased. Variable Control The windmill will be the same size, type and brand, on the same type of tower. The same wind source will be used and the blade size will be kept constant. The blade shapes were as follows: #1. Flat, unmodified blade surface; #2. Wing shape, with one leading edge rounded with the other edge tapered to a thin line; #3. Both edges tapered to a thin line; and #4. Both edges rounded like the leading edge of a conventional airplane wing. A drawing of tested blade shapes is provided below:

2. Surface Treatment This is important because if an optimum surface treatment can be determined, then the blades would not only be protected from the elements but also be more productive. Variable Control The blade shape, size, and composition remained constant. The blades were sanded to achieve a smooth surface. Only the surface coating was altered. Dependent Variables: Tip Speed Ratio The tip speed ratio is very important. The tip speed ratio is directly proportional to the windmill's productivity. It is how many times the blades rotate greater than the wind speed. System of Measurement: Each windmill blade will be attached to a generator. The one that generates the most voltage in the same wind speed is obviously more productive.

Procedure 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. A tower was created. A windmill prototype was created. A generator was equipped to the windmill. The windmill was assembled. Several 2.5" x .5" blades were cut out of wood from a common pattern. The blades were then tapered at differing shapes. The first set of blades was then equipped to the windmill. The windmill was then placed in front of the wind source on a horizontal axis and a vertical axis. 9. The amount of energy generated was recorded for each blade operation (i.e., horizontal or vertical axes). 10. The windmill was then equipped with another set of blades of a different design. 11. Steps 8~10 are then repeated as necessary. 12. After testing all blade shapes, the most efficient shape was then replicated and treated with different coatings. Once blade was not treated. 13. The blades were tested again, on a horizontal axis, following the above steps. Statistical Treatment

The size of the blades was measured by length, width and thickness. The width and length were relatively constant. Voltage data was collected using a digital multi meter that would allow for greater accuracy and precision. Eleven sample readings were collected for analysis of optimum blade shapes and twenty-four readings were collected for each coating (or control) for the purpose of analyzing the influence of blade surface treatment. Instruments & Materials 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. windmill tower blades hair dryer generator digital multi meter 30-gauge insulated copper wire light alligator clips solder & flux (used to attach wires to generator and alligator clips to wires)


The shape of the blade has a great deal of influence on the performance of the windmill. The tip speed ratio increased dramatically as the shape of the blade was modified to become more aerodynamically efficient when the blade was rotated on a horizontal axis. Blade shapes appearing to produce more lift and less drag were more efficient. Some blades did not rotate at all. However, when the direction of the wind was changed to reflect the effects on blades oriented on a vertical axis, each shape rotated reasonably well. It would appear that the blade shapes producing more drag performed better on a vertical axis. Tables of test results and charts of relative blade shape performance follow.

Blade Shapes
#2 #3 #4 91.8 0 0 105.7 101.6 95.0 93.8 Horizontal 100.2 Axis 113.7 102.9 118.6 118.3 105.8 Totals: 0 1147.4 0 0 Average: 0 104.31 0 0 Voltage #1 (mV) 0

Blade Shapes
Voltage #1 (mV) 296.6 276.8 288.3 265.2 260.7 Vertical 269.8 Axis 285.0 242.0 #2 198.3 230.4 219.7 244.3 223.6 228.3 226.3 245.0 #3 148.0 109.0 134.0 133.0 123.3 142.3 189.3 215.0 #4 180.7 179.2 227.6 246.3 268.0 317.6 284.0 302.0

249.8 229.9 220.0 296.0 266.0 220.3 166.0 293.0 236.0 221.4 152.0 292.0 Totals: 2909.2 2487.5 1731.9 2886.4 Average: 264.47 226.14 157.45 262.40

Surface treatment results were more surprising. The blade that was not treated with any coating appeared to perform the best. It is possible that the added weight of surface coatings adversely affected blade performance. However, the positive results of the painted blade in relation to the silicone blade would lead one to consider other research of optimal surface treatments; e.g., Teflon or other treatments. Results of the surface treatment data collection are provided below:

Blade Surface Treatment

#1 233.0 260.5 269.1 258.9 265.7 Horizontal 275.4 Axis 273.0 283.1 289.9 290.8 300.1 298.6 301.8 301.2 269.3 287.9 307.8 299.7 290.3 309.5 308.6 301.8 Voltage (mV) #2 156.2 145.9 143.2 148.5 155.5 135.8 164.8 132.8 166.5 167.8 168.8 159.8 159.7 161.5 156.3 167.8 175.8 176.5 169.5 173.7 167.8 158.0 #3 206.0 205.5 207.7 209.5 212.4 213.4 217.8 208.5 205.5 225.4 219.9 222.2 223.2 234.5 229.9 220.8 223.0 224.4 223.4 225.2 226.5 226.4

285.2 164.5 226.3 293.5 167.8 227.7 Totals: 6854.7 1685.8 2332.5 Average: 285.61 153.25 212.05

There were some other interesting results. First, I didn't realize how much wind force would be required to energize windmill blades. My first attempt at modeling blades used a wind source from a conventional room fan and a "wind tunnel" created out of tag board. The fan did not produce enough wind to turn the blades. I switched to a hair dryer that is a built-in wind source and combined wind tunnel. This worked but on fairly small, light windmill blades. This has led me to infer that windmills will only serve as an alternate energy source in areas that experience fairly constant and considerably forceful prevailing winds.

1. Summary
I have discovered the more aerodynamically efficient the blade shape is, the more efficient the windmill will be.

2. Resolution of Hypothesis
My hypothesis was correct in that the more aerodynamically efficient the blades are the more productive the windmill will be. My hypothesis about surface coatings was also supported. However, I originally thought that a surface coating might improve efficiency which was not supported.

3. Suggestions
This study has helped answer the problem of windmill efficiency, for now we know what to look for in creating a better windmill. However, the most efficient shape was the most commonly used shape on windmills already. In addition to surface coatings, two other areas emerged as candidates for further research: 1.) blade length and 2.) blade composition. The question still remains is: how can we further improve the efficiency of the windmill blade?

Research Paper

If the efficiency of a wind turbine is increased, then more power can be generated thus decreasing the need for expensive power generators that cause pollution. This would also reduce the cost of power for the common people. The wind is literally there for the taking and doesn't cost any money. Power can be generated and stored by a wind turbine with little or no pollution. If the efficiency of the common wind turbine is improved and widespread, the common people can cut back on their power costs immensely. Ever since the Seventh Century people have been utilizing the wind to make their lives easier. The whole concept of windmills originated in Persia. The Persians originally used th wind to irrigate farm land, crush grain and milling. This is probably where the term windmill came from. Since the widespread use of windmills in Europe, during the Twelfth Century, some areas such as the Netherlands have prospered from creating vast wind farms. The first windmills, however, were not very reliable or energy efficient. Only half the sail rotation was utilized. They were usually slow and had a low tip speed ratio but were useful for torque. Since its creation, man has constantly tried to improve the windmill. As a result, over the years, the number of blades on windmills have decreased. Most modern windmills have 2~3 blades while past windmills have had 4~8 blades. Past windmill also had to be manually directed into the wind, while modern windmills can be automatically turned into the wind. The sail design and materials used to create them have also changed over the years. In most cases the altitude of the rotor is directly proportional to its efficiency. As a matter of fact, a modern wind turbine should be at least twenty feet above and three hundred feet away from an obstruction, though it is even more ideal for it to be thirty feet above and five hundred feet away from any obstruction. Different locations have various wind speeds. Some places, such as the British Isles, have few inhabitants because of high wind speeds, yet they are ideal for wind generation. Did you know that th world's largest wind farm is located in California, and the total wind power generated there exceeds 1,400 megawatts of electricity? (A typical nuclear power plant generates 1,000 megawatts.) Some geographic features such as mountains also have an influence upon wind. Mountains can create mountain breezes at night, because of the cooler air flowing down the mountain and being heated by the warmer valley air causing a convection current. Valleys are affected in much the same way. In the daytime, the cooler air is above the valleys and the hot air is above the mountains. The hot air above the mountain rises above the valleys and cools, thus creating a convection current in the opposite direction

and creating a valley wind. The oceans create convection currents, as well as they mountains or valleys. In the day, the hotter air is above the same and the cooler air is above the ocean. The air heats up over the sand and rises above the ocean and then cools, creating the convection current. At night, the cooler air is above the sand and the warmer air is above the ocean, so the air heats up over the ocean and cools over the sand. As you can clearly see, the time of day also affects the wind. We know that for windmills to operate there must be wind, but how do they work? Actually there are two types of windmills -- the horizontal axis windmills and the vertical axis windmills. The horizontal axis windmills have a horizontal rotor much like the classic Dutch four-arm windmill. The horizontal axis windmills primarily rely on lift from the wind. As stated in Bernoulli's Principle, "a fluid will travel from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure." It also states, "as the velocity of a fluid increases, its density decreases." Based upon this principle, horizontal axis windmill blades have been designed much like the wings of an airplane, with a curved top. This design increases the velocity of the air on top of the blade thus decreasing its density and causing the air on the bottom of the blade to go towards the top ... creating lift. The blades are angled on the axis as to utilize the lift in the rotation. The blades on modern wind turbines are designed for maximum lift and minimal drag. Vertical axis windmills, such as the Darrieus (built in 1930) use drag instead of lift. Drag is resistance to the wind, like a brick wall. The blades on vertical axis windmills are designed to give resistance to the wind and are as a result pushed by the wind. Windmills, both vertical and horizontal axis, have many uses. Some of them are: hydraulic pump, motor, air pump, oil pump, churning, creating friction, heat director, electric generator, Freon pump, and can also be used as a centrifugal pump. There are many types of windmills, such as: the tower mill, sock mill, sail windmill, water pump, spring mill, multi-blade, Darrieus, savonis, cyclo-turbine, and the classic four-arm windmill. All of the above windmills have their advantages. Some windmills, like the sail windmill, are relatively slow moving, have a low tip speed ratio and are not very energy efficient compared to the cyclo-turbine, but are much cheaper and money is the great equalizer. There have been many improvements to the windmill over the years. Windmills have been equipped with air breaks, to control speed in strong winds. Some vertical axis windmills have even been equipped with hinged blades to avoid the stresses at high wind speeds. Some windmills, like the cyclo-turbine, have been equipped with a vane that senses wind direction and causes the rotor to rotate into the wind. Wind turbine generators have been equipped with gearboxes to control [shaft] speeds. Wind turbines have also been equipped with generators which convert shaft power into electrical power. Many of the sails on windmills have also been replaced with propeller-like airfoils. Some windmills can also stall in the wind to control wind speed. But above all of these improvements, the most important improvement to the windmill was made in 1745 when the fantail was invented. The fantail automatically rotates the sails into the wind.

Most wind turbines start to generate power at 12 miles per hour and shut down at speeds near 60 mph. The tip speed ratio of a windmill is how many times the blades of a windmill turn for every mile an hour the wind speed is. A tip speed of 1:1 means that, in a 23 mph wind, the blades of he windmill will rotate 23 times. Modern wind turbines have rations of 5 to 10 times that of the wind speed. The tip speed ratio is calculated as speed of rotation of blade over the wind speed, or 2 timers pi times radius times rpm over 88 times the wind speed velocity. The rpm is the revolutions per minute. Another variable of the windmill's efficiency is its swept area. The swept area of a disk-shaped wind wheel is calculated as: Area equals pi times diameter squared divided by four (pi equals 3.14). Another variable in the productivity of a windmill is the wind speed. The wind speed is measured by an anemometer. A good anemometer would cost around $100. Another necessity for a windmill is the tower. There are many types of towers. Some towers have guy wire to support them and others don't. The towers without guy wires are called freestanding towers. Something to take into consideration about a tower is that it must support the weight of the windmill along with the weight of the tower. Towers are also subject to drag. Scientists estimate that, by the 21st Century, ten percent of the world's electricity will come from windmills. Wind energy contributes very little pollution, toxic by-products or greenhouse gasses, it is still a sufficient supplement for non-renewable fuels, such as oil. There are still some questions that have not been answered by my research, such as: Can different materials decrease the solidity of the windmill blades? Do different designs (solid, hollow, tube spar, etc.) decrease the solidity of the windmill blades? Does temperature affect the solidity of the windmill blades? How does the length of the blade affect the tip speed ratio? Which is better: A high tip speed ratio or large swept area in electricity generation? Can an augmented diffuser and congengator increase the efficiency of a windmill? If these questions are answered, the windmill may become a great weapon in the quest for energy.

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