New Wind Tunnel Generates Energetic Possibilities for the University
Engineers, Students Can See How Their Experiments Flow Inside the Boundary Layer and Subsonic Tunnel
Inside the Boundary Layer and Subsonic Tunnel, air flows around an anchored test object — in this case, a small wind turbine. The tunnel features two test sections, including one in which wind speeds can reach 115 mph.
The University of Texas at Dallas recently unveiled a new, on-campus wind tunnel — the Boundary Layer and Subsonic Tunnel (BLAST) — that could potentially impact a wide range of areas, from science and industry to student research.
“With the experimental capabilities made possible by the BLAST wind tunnel, coupled with UT Dallas’ extensive capabilities in high-performance computing, we have that ideal blend of theory, experiment and simulation to take us to the next level of wind engineering,” said Dr. Richard C. Benson, president of UT Dallas.
“With the experimental capabilities made possible by the BLAST wind tunnel, coupled with UT Dallas’ extensive capabilities in high-performance computing, we have that ideal blend of theory, experiment and simulation to take us to the next level of wind engineering.”
“With our industry partners, we intend to build a progressively larger R&D program on the effects of wind on the natural and built environment,” he said.
Automobile manufacturers could test the reliability of windshields. Electrical engineers may observe how airflow affects heat buildup in components. Mechanical engineers could study the effects of wakes and atmospheric turbulence in wind farms. Environmentalists might explore how wind affects the dispersion of pollutants, and sports teams could examine the effect of wind resistance on athletes.
“BLAST will be integrated into our curriculum. It will be a key asset for senior design projects that require testing the forces that the wind exerts on objects,” said Dr. Mario A. Rotea, holder of the Erik Jonsson Chair and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “Student organizations will be able to measure the resistance to motion of their competition vehicles and make performance improvements using full-scale experimental data.”
BLAST, shaped like an oblong doughnut, boasts a 26,000-pound fan and creates wind conditions similar to those in the atmosphere. The effects of wind can be studied and measured for a range of wind speeds and turbulence levels.
Unlike many other wind tunnels, BLAST features two test sections and provides 100 feet of visibility.
In the Boundary Layer Test Section, where winds can reach 80 mph, automakers can work on drag reduction and noise prevention. Bicycle and train manufacturers can study undesired lift forces at high speeds. Studies on buildings, bridges, antennas and solar panels, as well as wind energy research, can also be conducted there. For example, wind turbine builders could perform experiments on blades for wind farms.
The University held a grand opening for the wind tunnel this summer, and the event included a demonstration. If you don’t see the video, watch it on Vimeo.
“Programs like UT Dallas wind engineering are needed now more than ever,” said Jason Allen, chief operating officer at Leeward Renewable Energy, which owns and operates 19 wind farms across nine states. “I say this because I believe that the wind industry is at a pivotal time. We are experiencing unparalleled growth, but operating cost pressures are more challenging than ever.”
In BLAST’s Subsonic Test Section, winds can hit 115 mph, similar to a Category 3 hurricane or an EF2 tornado. There, airplane designers could test the wind effects on aircraft using scaled models. Sailing yacht builders may test different sail geometries to help determine which is best.
Public officials, as well as members of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce, attended the opening and watched a demonstration of the wind tunnel’s capabilities.
Inside the tunnel, air flows around an anchored test object, and the tunnel’s contraction cone takes a large volume of low-velocity air and reduces it to a small volume of high-velocity air without creating turbulence. This allows for accurate testing and observation.
“There is nothing as thrilling as a real-world experiment,” Rotea said. “Actually seeing and experiencing everything happening in front of you is very exciting and necessary to test a theory or new concept.”
BLAST’s features are likely to lead to new partnerships with national laboratories and other universities.
“BLAST is just one of several investments made by UT Dallas in wind engineering,” Benson said. “The time is right to leverage this existing investment to make Texas even a greater state for wind power in particular, and wind engineering in general.”
BLAST was a University-funded project.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].