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JOURNALISM: WindEEE Dome [Download .doc version]


Cover Story: WindEEE Dome, by Jeffrey Reed
As Published By Business London Magazine
October 2013


Much of today’s banter about building in London focuses on big-box retail complexes and new home construction. But in east London, a one-of-a-kind concrete structure using outside-the-box thinking is gaining international attention for its research which ultimately will help improve building methods.

And although the Wind Engineering, Energy and Environment (WindEEE) Dome at London’s Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) has yet to simulate a full-blown tornado within its hexagon-shaped interior, it is already being hailed as an element critical to global wind research. And it all started with a paper napkin sketch.

Situated off Veterans Memorial Parkway, WindEEE Dome is, in fact, the world’s first hexagonal wind tunnel. Its large scale structure (25 metres diameter for the inner dome and 40 metres diameter for the outer return dome) allows for wind simulations over extended areas and complex terrain. WindEEE allows – for the first time – manipulation of inflow and boundary conditions to reproduce, at large scales and under controlled conditions, the dynamics of real wind systems.

In early-September, WindEEE Dome project engineer Andrew Mathers said in anticipation of the scheduled open house October 17, contractors were adding “some finishing touches” to the structure. “All the major equipment is in,” said Mathers. “We’ve (done) individual fan start-ups. Now we’re in the air flow commissioning stage. We’re confirming the performance and air flow quality of the wind chamber.”

But Mathers said not until the first simulated tornado blows through WindEEE Dome will it be considered 100-per-cent “utilized for what it’s designed for.”

Outside The Box

WindEEE Dome is a direct result of the strong background in Wind Engineering at Western University and recognition of new opportunities. Carrying a $33-million price tag, partly funded through The Canada Foundation for Innovation ($9.5 million) and the Ontario Research Fund ($9.5 million), the structure is an integral part of Western’s research. The university has an interdisciplinary team of more than 20 researchers from several faculties working on wind engineering and wind-related research, and is the only institution in Canada offering a graduate program in wind engineering. Western is also home to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) – a multi-disciplinary disaster prevention research and communications.

WindEEE Dome ground-breaking took place April 30, 2010 at AMP, a joint venture between Western, Fanshawe College of Applied Arts & Technology and the City of London. The land on Bradley Avenue was donated by the City and is part of Phase IV of Innovation Park.

According to Mathers, “A lot of the building is the wind tunnel.” He called the innovative project “the world’s first 3D wind chamber. It’s not a typical wind tunnel. It can do a lot of the same things, (for example) the typical straight flow testing. But some other features include sheared flows, varying wind speeds from left to right, or top to bottom, and any configuration in between. It can also do gusting flows.”

The “EEE” portion of WindEEE is an acronym for Engineering, Energy and Environment:

• Engineering – Design wind/solar sustainable urban communities and improve designs for buildings, bridges and power transmission lines
• Energy – Improve the efficiency of wind turbine designs and the energy output of wind farms by reproducing real-time wind turbulence to test wind and turbine components and wind farms
• Environment – Test the vulnerabilities of agricultural crops and forests, as well the disbursement patterns of airborne pollutants

Horia Hangan, an Engineering professor at Western and director of the WindEEE Research Institute, called the facility “a big investment for Canada,” and much more than just a lab. “Any type of wind or even energy-related problems related to the building industry, we’d be able to help.”

Mathers said Hangan’s original concept for WindEEE Dome stemmed from a paper napkin sketch, followed by a year’s worth of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) used to run various scenarios and confirm the appropriate wind flow parameters.

“If you inject air into the dome through the peripheral walls at a certain angle and eject air at the top, you can generate tornadoes,” said Hangan. “It can also produce other type of storms such as downbursts, low-level jets, and gusts. These are the kinds of winds that are responsible for more than 60 per cent of any type of structural damage in North America.

“There is nothing like this (dome) anywhere in the world,” added Hangan, who said WindEEE Dome will also include an outside platform with water to stimulate rain and floods, and particulates like sand, dust and ice. He called the dome a “weather machine.”

The benefits of WindEEE Dome research are six-fold:

• Sustainability – Recommendations for and testing of wind/solar sustainable urban community designs
• Commercialization – Enhanced opportunities for partnerships to accelerate the commercialization of promising research findings
• Access to Expertise – As part of an emerging, cross-university area of excellence, which includes Power Systems Engineering, Energy Regulations and Disaster Mitigation, WindEEE will link industry problems with potential solutions generated by world-class researchers
• Better Buildings – Western pioneers the introduction of a new “Local Storms” climate for building codes
• Training – Western’s wind engineering graduate program, in conjunction with the technologies of WindEEE, will serve to train highly-qualified engineers for industry
• Increasing Energy Outputs – WindEEE will help contribute to improving the energy output of wind farms, which is critical for the development of an industrial wind energy cluster within Ontario

Unbelievable Tolerances

Boasting 106 fans which can draw up to 1.8 megawatts of power, WindEEE Dome involves a strong team of design, construction and stakeholder partners with an LDCA flavour, including: Tonda Construction Ltd. (general contractor); NORR (architect); LOR-DON Ltd. (steel fabricator, wind tunnel components); ABB (fans, VFDs and PLCs); JMR Electrical Service Company Inc. (mechanical and electrical); Con-Wall Concrete Inc. (concrete); Lambton Metal Service (building structural steel); Mader Dampers (louver systems); and Wilson Doors (hangar doors).

Tonda president Tom Weller said the WindEEE Dome project was unique, demanding that “everything has to be dead on,” thanks to “unbelievable” tolerances. “Even with pouring the concrete the tolerances were very, very high. At the end of the day, all of the tolerances were met.”

Inside WindEEE Dome, mounted on the peripheral walls and at the top of the dome, an array of specialized fans can be activated using a sophisticated control strategy to provide time-varying and spatially-varying flow fields in the test section. By manipulating the outflow and direction of these fans, the facility is capable of producing time-dependent, straight, sheared or swirl winds of variable directionality. Therefore a large variety of wind fields, such as boundary layers, portions of hurricanes, tornados, downbursts, low-level currents or gust fronts will be physically simulated.

An active topographic capability will generate a wide diversity of surface topographies at unprecedented scales, allowing wind simulations over areas of the order of 10 square kilometres. The same system will be used to locally seed for the Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) system that will measure the wind field over extended areas. A traverse mechanism will allow for a laser head to traverse the flow in a multitude of vertical and horizontal sections in order to produce PIV wind field measurements with a full scale equivalent resolution of 10 metres.

It is expected that for the first time, laboratory tornado-like flows as large as 6 metre in diameter will simulate the equivalent of F3 Fujita Scale intensity winds. Large scale models of wind farms or portions of transmission lines will be tested under a wide range of wind conditions. The interference between wind turbines (wake and array effects) will be investigated and a full scale wind turbine blade can be traversed through the 25 metre diameter dome and tested under realistic wind shear and wind turbulence conditions. The dispersion of pollutants, the effects of winds on forests and plant canopies will also be addressed.

“We know the wind can be a creator and a destroyer,” said Hangan. “We anticipate that researchers and industrial partners across the country and internationally will find a home in WindEEE and that together, we will find new ways to enhance the wind’s creative energy and ways to dissipate its destructive nature.”

Western’s Innovation Tops

Although unique to the world, WindEEE Dome is one portion of Western’s internationally-recognized wind research. The Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory (BLWTL) is a cutting-edge facility for wind tunnel testing and analysis, and has contributed to major advances in wind engineering since 1964. The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes, home to the Three Little Pigs project, allows for a full-scale home to face simulated winds up to a category five hurricane. And the Advanced Facilities for Avian Research (AFAR) is home to the world’s first hypobaric bird wind tunnel.

Mathers said while applications such as “buildings, bridges, power transmission lines, wind turbines, solar panels” are initial inclusions among WindEEE Dome research, other future stakeholders are coming forward, too, thanks to the structure’s one-of-a-kind offerings. “We are finding that because WindEEE has unique capabilities, other applications are coming up, including the construction industry – construction materials, urban sustainability, and even some automotive interest.”

Long before any research initiatives, Western’s president Amit Chakma stated, “(WindEEE Dome) is great news for Western and for London, and it is the strong partnerships we have that have made it possible … the facility will be world-class and will be a draw for others looking for close proximity to cutting-edge research and innovation.”

As a world-class, research-intensive Institute, WindEEE will attract high-calibre international researchers and top graduate and undergraduate students from across the world. The WindEEE Institute will also be a key player in developing vital partnerships with the City of London, the region of southwestern Ontario and both governmental and non-governmental organizations.

From its paper napkin conception to cutting-edge innovation, WindEEE Dome has caught the scientific world by storm. And with a world-class research team at Western University, the sky’s the limit when it comes to bettering building, one storm at a time.

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