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UB spinoff Atrevida Science aims to modernize the wind turbine

The Atrevida Science team stands in front of a wind tunnel in the Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory in Ketter Hall.

The Atrevida Science team stands in front of a wind tunnel in the Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory in Ketter Hall. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By CORY NEALON

Published December 17, 2021

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headshot of John Hall.
“Existing wind turbines — both on and offshore — rely on technology that is 40 years old. A new design paradigm is needed to meet projected demands for electricity while reducing fossil fuel emissions. ”
John Hall, assistant professor
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

For decades, companies eager to boost wind energy production have relied upon a simple strategy: make the turbine blades bigger.

While generally effective, the approach has drawbacks. Namely, bigger machines cost more money to build and install. And due to their growing size, they’re susceptible to expensive breakdowns.

UB spinoff Atrevida Science aims to solve these problems by developing dynamic wind turbine blades that automatically adjust to real-time changes in wind speed and direction.

Dubbed active morphing blades™, the design helps turbines more efficiently capture wind while also significantly reducing the likelihood of failure, company founders say.

“We can continue to make bigger wind turbine blades, or we can make them smarter,” says Claudia Maldonado, founder and CEO of Atrevida, which has licensed technology developed in the lab of John Hall, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Hall serves as the science adviser to Atrevida.

Morphing blade leads to efficiency, fewer breakdowns

The revamped blade design has many possible applications, including use in aviation, aerospace, shipbuilding, unmanned aerial vehicles, onshore wind generation and other sectors.

But Maldonado sees its greatest potential in offshore wind, an area in which the United States lags behind other countries.

To catch up, the Biden administration has pledged to create up to 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. That’s enough to power 10 million homes, the White House says. The effort is part of a broader shift to renewable energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions.

A protoype of Atrevida Science's active morphing blade, side view.

A prototype of Atrevida Science's active morphing blade™. The design helps turbines more efficiently capture wind while significantly reducing the likelihood of failure. Photo: Atrevida Science

Morphing blades could help the U.S. achieve the offshore wind goal, Hall says, because the design produces more energy while requiring less bulky towers and platforms than conventional turbines.

The company believes its blades can operate at 14% greater efficiency than current turbines. That increase in production could add 1.4 million homes — for a total of 11.4 million — if all the planned offshore wind projects referenced by the Biden administration used Atrevida’s blades.

The power would be more reliable as well, Hall says, pointing to studies from Sandia National Laboratories that suggest morphing blades can reduce turbine failures by as much as 70%. Also, current blades are getting so large that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manufacture and transport them.

“Existing wind turbines — both on and offshore — rely on technology that is 40 years old,” says Hall. “A new design paradigm is needed to meet projected demands for electricity while reducing fossil fuel emissions.”

A protoype of Atrevida Science's active morphing blade; 3/4 view. .

A prototype of Atrevida Science's active morphing blade™. Photo: Atrevida Science

Funding, partnerships help Atrevida grow

Since its founding in 2018, Atrevida has received support from a variety of sources.

The company has been awarded roughly $400,000 in Small Business Technology Transfer program funding via the U.S. Air Force, which is interested in how morphing blades can improve the performance of helicopters, airplanes, drones and other vehicles.

It has also received funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Buffalo Innovation Accelerator Fund, which is run by UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnership’s office.

The company has partnered with UB’s Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL) to conduct experimental testing in the wind tunnel in Ketter Hall. “We’d like to thank Scot Weinreber (senior instrumentation specialist at SEESL) and the team for their assistance in conducting these tests. They’ve been a tremendous partner,” says Maldonado.

Among the company’s other accomplishments:

  • It is one of nine companies selected from over 600 for the inaugural 2021 cohort of Venture for ClimateTech, which is a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority accelerator program that’s administered by NextCorps and SecondMuse.
  • Being selected as a Cleantech Open Northeast regional finalist in 2020.
  • Being chosen to participate in VentureWell’s 2021 ASPIRE Cleantech program.
  • Reaching round two of the Most Fundable Companies contest led by Pepperdine University.
  • Being named a finalist in 2019 at the Most Valuable Pitch Competition hosted by SUNY’s Technology Accelerator Fund.
  • Being named a 2019 semifinalist and a 2020 finalist of the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition at UB.

Additionally, Atrevida is an ECO Incubator Client, a program run by Launch NY.

The company is focused on leveraging these partnerships, as well as pursuing new ones, to continue research and development, including software simulation and testing of prototypes in wind tunnels.

READER COMMENT

UB should look into harnessing the wind on both the North and South campuses. Take advantage of the wind that almost blows me over walking into Kimball Tower every day. Try partnering with Atrevida Science for some installations on campus. You don't need large, traditional windmills, either. Look into this: https://vortexbladeless.com/. You could paint them in UB's colors and they would look like giant thunder sticks.

John Moscato