DAYTONA BEACH -- Manu Sharma and a small group of his friends spend their days at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University designing and working on planes.
But after class and on weekends, they've developed a wind turbine they hope can be used locally by homeowners and around the world. Some countries have already shown an interest, including Tanzania in East Africa, where they hope to help provide power in villages.
Sharma, 21, an Embry-Riddle senior from India, came up with the design after being inspired by decorative wind toys or wind twisters people use on their balconies as art decor.
He saw a wooden one last fall in an art shop on a trip to Tennessee and thought "why not have something that is a decorative piece for your home, but you can also power electricity from it?"
"I just like solving problems and in aerospace we learn about aerodynamics and how air flows," Sharma said. "It's the same thing we learn with aircraft. And right now everybody is talking about green technology. This is something that can benefit people and that's what really keeps us going."
So he started researching wind turbines and built a small tabletop model with a $900 stipend from the university's Honors Program that has a similar design as the art decorations but intended to generate power.
He even formed his own company, Nuovo Wind, and that model has now turned into a larger wind turbine designed and built as part of an independent study class project with five other students majoring in aerospace engineering. Some of the students are also part of the company.
The research, which included computer simulations, and building of the larger turbine was done through $7,500 from the university. The group hopes to make one or two more in the next two months.
Sharma, who plans to go on to graduate school, and recently tested the wind turbine with his fellow students at Embry-Riddle on the ground and in a wind tunnel at the university. He said "it went very well. It's rotating and creating power."
They hope to do more testing and then put one on the rooftop of one of the campus buildings.
While there are other wind turbines, Sharma and his professor, Brian Butka, said what makes this one unique is the shape of the blades, material used and its design.
The turbine works in a vertical direction and the 7-foot-tall blades, made of nylon fabric used for parachutes, catch the wind from one side to the other, causing the shaft to rotate. The turbine is attached to a pole and has batteries and a home-made generator. The turbine would be connected to a power inverter and could be used to help power small appliances or garden lights, for example, not an entire home.
Sharma said the turbine, which would sit on a person's roof on top of a 6-foot pole, could provide about 100 watts an hour under normal winds or 2 kilowatts under maximum power. It is designed so it can be easily installed by a homeowner, he said.
The cost would be about $1,000 or less compared to other wind turbines made of fiberglass or sheet metal that cost about $5,000 to $10,000, Sharma said.
Butka, associate professor of electrical engineering, who oversees the students on the project, said he was "skeptical" at first, considering research shows that vertical axis wind turbines are inefficient and costly. But Sharma proved to him that his worked and that "it's low cost and can be built out of simple materials."
Butka has a friend with the federal government who presented their design last week to government officials in Tanzania. Sharma said the Tanzanian government has talked about wanting to use solar panels or wind turbines and is still reviewing the students' design.
"They can build it and maintain it themselves," Butka said about Tanzania and other similar countries. "We're hopeful and excited."
The students are also waiting to hear if they will be selected to go to Chile next year as part a Start-Up Chile program, that funds projects to help further develop business models. They were selected earlier this year, but declined because they wanted to graduate first.
Sharma also represented his idea to investors in New York through the Kairos Society that brings together top students and entrepreneurs. He will return for a February summit to talk to more Fortune 500 CEOs.
They also hope to get the turbine used or at least tested on the beachside. They plan to talk to Daytona Beach officials soon about permitting requirements.
The students working on the project include Sharma; Brian Rieger, 22, a senior from Davis, Calif.; Ben Eberly, 19, a sophomore, Centre Hall, Pa.; Harsh Gothwal, 22, a senior, Tallahassee; Cyrus Cempron, 22, a senior, Miami, and Cyrus Jou, 22, a senior, Boca Raton.
Four will be graduating in December. Rieger, who is the company's chief technology officer, hopes to go to Chile next year. He's used to seeing a lot of green energy in his home state of California.
Eberly said he gets more excited about the project daily as he drives around and sees where the wind turbines would be helpful. Gothwal said he's originally from India where there is no power in some villages.
"It's a day-to-day necessity," he said.
Geoffrey Kain, Embry-Riddle professor and the university's Honors Program director, said Sharma stands out in the Honors Program.
"He has combined gifts of imagination, brilliant insight, technical skill and restless ambition," Kain said.
Sharma said his hope is to have a manufacturing plant possibly in Embry-Riddle's planned Aerospace Research and Technology Park in the future.
"I want people to have access to it the way they have hybrid cars," Sharma said. "I wanted to have a wind turbine that everybody could buy."
© 2011 The Daytona Beach News-Journal.