Drexel Students’ Concept for Harnessing Energy from Wind Tunnels Takes Them to Paris

Go Green Design Challenge
Alexa Forney and Greg Yeutter were selected in the top 25 teams from around the world to attend the final Go Green in the City Design Challenge competition in Paris

If you live in Philadelphia, you have no doubt experienced the winds that whip through the buildings. While most of us find these wind tunnels annoying, two Drexel students found them inspiring.

Alexa Forney, a junior product design major in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, and Greg Yeutter, a junior majoring in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering with a minor in product design, recently developed a concept for harnessing this untapped energy source by installing wind power solutions in urban settings.

They submitted the project, entitled “Smart Cities: Wind Power in the Urban Pedestrian Space," to the Go Green in the City Design Challenge, an international case challenge funded by Schneider Electric, a France-based company that specializes in energy management.

The competition was created to encourage students to design ideas and find solutions for better optimization of energy and power.

Forney and Yeutter were selected in the top 25 teams from among 600 entries by both undergraduate and graduate students hailing from Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Turkey and the United States.

The pair was sent on an all-expense-paid trip Paris to present their design solution at the final competition from June 27 - 28, where they were awarded an honorable mention.

While in Paris, the students had the opportunity to participate in field activities, lectures, case studies and dinner parties to learn more about the work being done at Schneider Electric.

According to Forney, their concept involved a system of wind turbines that could be installed in streets and spaces between buildings, using flexible sails to divert otherwise turbulent winds into a more useful stream. Using vertical-axis turbines instead of traditional wind turbines, the concept could feasibly charge approximately three electric car stations for eight hours a day for an entire year.

An added benefit is the possibility that the sails, in smoothing out gusty winds for turbine use, would help calm the atmosphere at ground level, making the environment more pleasant for pedestrians.

“Our concept was actually inspired by broken umbrellas,” said Forney. “To me, the sheer number of sad, busted-up umbrellas littering the streets in the city and stuffed into trashcans after rainstorms represented a largely untapped source of strong, volatile winds, which we hoped to capture in our concept.”

“Everyone I met at the competition was helpful and engaging, and interested in making the world a better place, which gave the two days I spent presenting and doing workshops a really great energy,” said Forney. “I didn't feel like one moment of my time was wasted as I learned from Schneider professionals and networked with people from all over the world.”

Michael Glaser, assistant professor and director of the product design program, initially suggested that the students participate in the extra-curricular activity and advised them along the way.

“What is great about our students' participation in these types of competitions is not just that it proves that Drexel students can hold their own against anyone, but, more importantly it provides our students the opportunity to share, mingle and collaborate with wonderful minds from all over the planet,” said Glaser.