Wind energy project inspires hobby, potential career

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MFL MarMac senior Tim Henkels recently represented the school at the Keystone AEA’s Kid Wind Energy Challenge, placing first for this wind-powered turbine, which he built using mostly recycled materials. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

MFL MarMac senior Tim Henkels recently represented the school at the Keystone AEA’s Kid Wind Energy Challenge, placing first for a wind-powered turbine he built himself.

“I had some fun with it, putting it together,” Henkels said.

Held together by a wooden frame and base, the project is a vertical turbine, and Henkels used mostly recycled materials to construct it.

“I had a bicycle wheel rim on the bottom,” he explained, and a metal plate sits at the top. The turbine blades rotate between the two ends. “It was just flat plates at first,” he said of the blades, “but then I took some 55-gallon plastic jugs that I got at Prairie Farms and I cut them into three different blades. That worked really well.”

The turbine was direct drive powered, using just the bicycle wheel and a small motor. Henkels said he’s generated as much as 16,000 milliwatt seconds of power on a run; a milliwatt is equal to one-thousandth of a watt. That could be enough, he noted, to power a little device.

Henkels discovered the turbine design on YouTube, his go-to source for science project ideas. He created the project on his own time—simply for the fun of it.

“This isn’t an assignment or anything anyone’s told him he has to do,” said teacher Elise Martins. “I’ve had Tim as a student all through high school, and he’s always been very analytically-minded, scientifically-minded. He likes building things.”

“Anything that’s hands-on, as long as it’s not office related, I’m good at it,” Henkels said with a smile.

He first became interested in wind turbines as an underclassman, when he took a power energy class taught by then-agriculture teacher Doug Martin. Martin had students build miniature, working wind turbines.

“I think that really just sparked his interest and his passion for it,” Martins said. “He’ll collect things over the summer and tinker around with it. He’s shown me how he’s made things out of other items.”

Henkels tries to get as many materials as he can for free, at events like city-wide clean-ups. That not only keeps the cost low, but is also more environmentally-friendly.

“Like they say, the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle,” he quipped.

“We’ve read articles in class about leaving carbon footprints on this earth and how to lessen the impact of it,” Martins commented. “He’s really passionate about that cause.”

Henkels hopes other people, especially students, will become more interested in renewable energy. It has both environmental and economic benefits, he said.

“We’re getting into that transition where there’s going to be a lot of renewable resources coming on. It’s finally catching up,” shared Henkels. “I heard it’s evolving faster than the cellphone industry did, and I would like to see how it evolves.”

With plans to study computer science and renewable resources following graduation, Henkels will be right there to see it.

Martins couldn’t be more proud.

“It’s nice to see students mature and progress over time and find their calling,” she said. “He’s taken the initiative to make a hobby into a career.”

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