U.S. Water News Online
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Although Oregon State University
professor Alan Wallace died last spring, his vision for a
wind-powered water heating system is being realized by students who
considered him a mentor and pioneer in sustainable energy.
"It's nice that even after he passed, his work is continued," said
Paul Vigansky, a senior majoring in electrical engineering and
co-team leader on the water heater project.
"I'm hoping to bring this technology out into the world, to allow
his legacy to live on," he said.
Vigansky and fellow team leader Jacques Chiron worked with three
other OSU students with an interest in power systems, in addition to
faculty advisers, to develop a prototype of Wallace's idea for their
This year, a new group of students is continuing where they left
Vigansky and Shamus Gamache, another member of the original team,
hope their design eventually can be patented and used for residential
and commercial heating, particularly in developing countries.
On a recent afternoon Gamache and Vigansky presented their model
to Ron Adams, dean of the College of Engineering, and David Vant Hof,
sustainability policy adviser to Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Their water heater is fairly simple, the students said.
The prototype is about three-quarters the size of a telephone
booth, topped with a Savonius wind turbine made from a 35-gallon
To heat the water tank of a conventional home, the turbine would
need to be about three times larger, Gamache and Vigansky said. They
estimated the cost at about $2,000.
Unlike conventional methods of heating water, which require
electricity or natural gas, this technology is completely
The turbine is connected to one end of a vertical shaft. At the
other end are 22 powerful magnets.
When wind hits the turbine, the shaft spins, rotating the magnets.
This change in magnetic field creates energy.
A copper plate below the magnets acts as a conductor. As the plate
warms, water from a storage tank is pumped through copper coils
attached to the plate, and heats.
The turbine also could be placed in a stream, and the water
current would cause the shaft to rotate, the students said.
Once the water is hot, the turbine could be used to generate
electricity, or the hot water could provide passive heating such as
radiant heat for a home.
The device hasn't been tested in the field yet, but during lab
tests it was able to heat water to 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
The primary concern, Vigansky said, is not letting the magnets
overheat. Once the magnetic array passes 175 degrees, the magnetic
field is lost.
To protect against this, the team installed a safeguard that
monitors the magnets' temperature. Once they reach about 120 degrees,
the copper plate automatically moves away from the magnets.
The group still needs to determine exactly how much wind is needed
to make the turbine spin, and how long it would take for the energy
savings to make up for the cost of the water heater.
Both Vigansky and Gamache have been approached by homeowners,
primarily in rural and coastal areas, volunteering to try the
project. Due to liability and legality issues, that wasn't possible,
but the interest was encouraging.
"It's a great project. It was a lot of fun to work on. I can see
it working in Oregon and Alaska and all over the world," Gamache
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