New Spin on Wind
What do squids and wind turbines have in common? More than you think if you ask Louisa Ulrich-Verderber, a sophomore majoring in engineering & management at Clarkson University. Ulrich-Verderber has developed a wind turbine prototype that captures energy through an undulating motion — similar to a squid’s tentacles — rather than the traditional rotating movement. The turbine, which mounts directly onto a roof, uses length instead of height to capture energy from the surrounding — and often turbulent — air.
“I was appalled by how expensive traditional wind turbines or solar panels are,” says Ulrich-Verderber. “If we're ever going to get more people into green energy for their homes, it can't take 14 years to pay it off. While solar panels seemed out of my realm, wind turbines seemed slightly more accessible.”
Because traditional, rotary wind turbines cannot operate in turbulent or disruptive air, they must be built high above roof tops and, often, timber lines. Constructing the tower that the wind turbine unit is attached to is both expensive to build and to maintain.
“So I thought, what if you just got rid of the tower?” says Ulrich-Verderber. “Of course, that means that it couldn't be a rotary turbine anymore because the physics of a rotary turbine dictate that it has to have a tower. It would have to look completely different.”
It took a few weeks for the idea to percolate before Ulrich-Verderber was struck with inspiration, during AP Biology. “I doodled, on the back of my paper, what became my first sketch of the wind turbine design, along with some ideas — and I’ve been running from there ever since.”
The design was already under provisional patent before she attended her high school graduation. Ulrich-Verderber chose Clarkson University after discovering its willingness to help her build her business model and also propel her design forward.
“When I was looking at colleges I really wanted a school that could give me the resources to further this project and eventually to start a business around it,” says Ulrich-Verderber. “When I came to Clarkson, I was astounded by how wiling people were to help me with this project. For the past year, I've been working with the Shipley Center for Innovation, particularly with Jamey Hoose. They've helped me set up as a company. I'm now officially CEO of Undula Tech, which is exciting.”
Through contacts orchestrated by the Shipley staff, Ulrich-Verderber has expanded her Clarkson circle to include a team of professors and others interested in her pursuit. The next step of her project includes a bit of re-design and plenty of testing, as well as “all the other very technical stuff that goes with inventing,” notes Ulrich-Verderber.
While her innovative design eliminates the costs associated with building a tower and, hopefully, makes green energy a more accessible option for those who want it, it also sets Ulrich-Verderber up for her end goal: graduating from Clarkson University and stepping into the office of her newly created wind turbine business.
“I believe to be a truly creative entrepreneur you need to soak up knowledge from any strange or obscure places you can, because you never know how it's going to help you,” says Ulrich-Verderber. “I thought of my idea because I was thinking about wind turbines, and I'd just watched a documentary about squids. Why not find ways to marry various things together to create something amazing?”