P3: Harvesting Wind Energy under Bridges


P3: Harvesting Wind Energy with Existing Bridge Underpass Infrastructure 

Funding: EPA(SU835076) – Jean Benoit (PI), Tat S. Fu, Erin Bell 

Duration: 2011-2012

Abstract                                                                                                                                   

The challenge of this project is to use wind patterns from traffic and natural flow through bridge underpasses to harvest energy for powering lighting, signalization, emergency warnings and structural health monitoring systems. Providing power to thousands of underpass bridges using renewable clean energy would help meet the nation’s goal of reaching 20% wind energy by 2030. Potential excess energy could be sent to the grid. In remote areas and in developing countries, access to the grid would no longer be necessary to provide needed power services to millions of bridges. This project has the potential to affect all people by providing non intrusive sustainable energy sources designed to supply services and health monitoring to key elements of our vital transportation system. The economic benefits are potentially immense as resulting energy savings could be applied to our aging infrastructure for bridge maintenance and repairs as well as funding for future replacements. Adapting bridge underpasses as renewable clean energy sources provides a substitute to fossil fuels which negatively affects our planet. Using existing structures and wind patterns to generate sustainable and economical power is highly innovative.

Using two local bridges instrumented for structural health monitoring, students in civil, environmental, mechanical, and electrical engineering will take field measurements using anemometers. The recorded data will be used to demonstrate the amount of energy available for wind power harvesting. Additionally, the measurements from the two bridges will be analyzed and compared to identify connections between wind speed and bridge characteristics (e.g., site condition, span, width, height, traffic volume). Students will build bridge scale models and test them in a wind tunnel facility to understand how bridge underpass designs affect wind speed around these structures. The students will work to design efficient turbines for different bridges and different locations within the underpass. A survey of bridges in New Hampshire will be conducted to assess potential energy that can be generated from the proposed research.

Products                                                                                                                                 

Naylor, M., Steward, J., Schindler, L., White, S., Gherardi, A., Travers, J., Benoit, J., Fu, T., Bell, E., and Wosnik, M., 2012. “Can Wind Turbines Keep Bridge Lights On?” P3 Expo (2012), Washington D.C.,  June 2012.