Peeking through the fan blades of a hexagonal dome, Horia Hangan looks like he is on the movie set of “Honey, I Shrunk the Dome.”
Horia Hangan, principal investigator of the WindEEE Dome, and Mechanical Engineering PhD student Maryam Refan take a peek through the holes for some of the 106 fans to be installed on the mini-WindEEE model.
The University of Western Ontario researcher and principl investigator of the dome is taking a walk around (and inside) the walls of a miniature version of the Wind Engineering, Energy and Environment Dome (WindEEE), which will be built at Western’s Advanced Manufacturing Park.
As Western sets out to make history with the world’s first hexagonal wind tunnel, the building itself will be an experiment in science and engineering. Not to take chances on the full-scale facility, Hangan, a Faculty of Engineering professor, uses the mini-dome, standing at about one-tenth full-scale size, as a testing ground to ensure that any construction adjustments are made before it turns into bricks and mortar.
Workers are expected to break ground for the construction of the $23.6 million WindEEE Dome in November. But before the dome begins to take shape, Hangan must put the mini-model through a series of tests to make sure it will perform as predicted.
“You don’t build an airplane before you build a model-scale airplane and test it,” Hangan says. “It’s a standard procedure in high-risk type of engineering.”
The full-scale WindEEE Dome is designed to be 40 metres across and will contain more than 100 fans, each one metre in diameter. The concept was developed numerically, so Hangan needs to turn the numbers into a physical reality to prove the equations work.
“We will confirm that the type of flows we said will generate are there,” he says. “The first test that will benchmark what we have numerically simulated and make sure the installation works the way it was designed to is going to take a couple weeks.”
The model, which was built at Western with input from various units, will also help design the control of the facility, such as how to control the 106 fans to create different wind flows. Each of the fans can be controlled individually.
Two types of flows will be initially created in WindEEE – straight flows (resembling wind tunnel-type configurations) and axisymmetric flows (such as jets, downbursts and tornados).
Because the fans can operate individually, WindEEE will also be able to create a non-uniform horizontal or vertical flow, mimicking flows created by rotating wind turbine blades. The fans can also be reversed, blowing outside the facility, to traverse wind turbine blades or to test larger objects, such as solar panels.
It is expected WindEEE will be able to simulate a F3 tornado.
“We will learn how the big WindEEE works better, how to control it … how the heating and cooling works,” Hangan says, noting after the data is collected he will work with companies to finalize the design and retest the model. “It’s a long-term program,” he says.
Researchers plan to expand upon the initial flow designs, so the model will be used as a research tool to test new scenarios.
“It will be used for the lifetime of WindEEE because we will keep inventing other type of flows. We will test here and then implement in the big dome,” he says.
WindEEE research will further the understanding of local wind storms and their effects on buildings and structures, transmission lines and wind farms.
The university will also add a 10,000-square-foot academic support facility on the new Advanced Manufacturing Park site for faculty, students and staff associated with WindEEE as well as with other new facilities.
Construction of the dome is expected to be complete in the fall of 2011.
WINDEEE Dome builds on nearly 50 years of wind engineering at Western, which began with Alan Davenport and the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel. Now one of Western’s strategic research areas, wind engineering has expanded to include not only WINDEE, but also the Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes, which is home to the Three Little Pigs project. Western has also developed another international first with the Advanced Facility for Avian Research.
“WINDEEE is taking this to the power of three … creating 3-D wind systems which are very difficult to simulate otherwise,” Hangan says. “It confirms the fact that Western is at the lead of wind engineering worldwide.”
Western’s international reputation for excellence in wind engineering includes:
Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory
Some of the world’s most memorable structures, such the Emirates Towers in Dubai, UAE, the CN Tower in Toronto and the Confederation Bridge in Prince Edward Island, have been found on campus. At least, miniature-scale models of these structures have been tested at the BLWTL.
The facility is cutting edge for developing wind tunnel testing and analysis methods for tall buildings, long-span bridges and other structures, and providing planners with important solutions to complex wind engineering problems.
The facilities include two wind tunnels – BLWT 1 and BLWT 2. The first wind tunnel was built in 1965 and can test wind speeds up to 55 miles per hour. The second tunnel, built in 1984, can test a maximum wind speed of 100 miles per hour. By analyzing wind tunnel data to reveal the dynamics and properties of structural loads, researchers can help predict how buildings behave and respond under varying wind conditions.
The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes
Researchers at The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes are not afraid of the big, bad wolf. In fact, they welcome a few huffs and puffs to see the effects of wind on houses, as well as study the damage of snow and rain. Dubbed the “Three Little Pigs” project, the facility is the first of its kind in the world and allows researchers to simulate and study realistic damage to a full-scale two-story brick house – complete with plumbing and heating – within a controlled environment.
The lab simulates hurricane-force winds up to 200 miles per hour (the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane). Dozens of pressure sensors and cameras linked to computers record all the stresses and damage sustained by the house and how each part of the structure is affected. The steel hangar surrounding test house can be removed on tracks to test the effects of the house’s exposure to natural elements.
Research at this facility will help prevent catastrophic loss of life and property by providing insight into how to make safer houses – which will lead to insurance companies saving money.
Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR)
Some researchers probably thought they would have to grow wings to properly studying the flight patterns of birds. But the recently completed $9-million Advanced Facility for Avian Research at Western gives researchers a bird’s eye view of bird behaviour, physiology and neurobiology. It brings together interdisciplinary experts from across campus and beyond.
Home to the world’s first hypobaric bird wind tunnel, researchers are able to simulate natural climates and altitudes through changes in moisture, temperature and pressure. The 13,000-square-foot facility also includes comprehensive avian analytical equipment and experimental facilities.
The major focus of research is the avian annual cycle, from reproduction and moult to migration and wintering, including learning about how birds adapt to their environment, responses to stressors such as climate change, habitat disturbance and disease.
For more information about wind engineering at Western visit eng.uwo.ca/windengineering/