When Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Justin Masterson took the mound at Progressive Field on Thursday to start what turned out to be the longest opening-day game ever in the major leagues, a new structure hovered over him from the ballpark’s southeastern corner.
The spiral looping 40 feet into the air is a newly patented wind turbine, the idea of Cleveland State University mechanical engineering professor Dr. Majid Rashidi.
Dr. Rashidi’s idea presents a unique strategy to cutting costs through the use of wind energy.
“The easiest way to explain it is this: there are two wind turbines hanging on both sides of the spiral,” Dr. Rashidi says. “When air passes by the spiral, it gently deflects the wind towards the turbines to power them. If the spiral were not there, the air molecules would typically miss the turbines entirely.”
The inclusion of Dr. Rashidi’s Wind Deflecting Structure isn’t the Indian’s first foray into alternative energy projects. The club was the first Major League Baseball team to implement solar panels into its design in 2007.
However, Dr. Rashidi’s system is important because of its local roots and the example it hopes to serve.
“The kind of expertise we have in Northeastern Ohio can bring manufacturing back,” he says. “It helps the economy by thinking outside the box, trying to do something bold and creating something that no one has thought of yet.”
Cleveland, like many Rust Belt cities, has seen steady declines in economic output and urban decay as jobs have left the region in past decades. However, Cleveland’s experiencing a certain transformational renaissance, as noted by Yahoo!, and its wind-energy sector seems to be giving the city a boost.
Yet, Rashidi’s work and the work of LEEDCo. (a regional nonprofit that seeks to build a wind farm on Lake Erie) aren’t the city’s first contributions to wind-energy technology.
That distinction belongs to Charles Brush, who developed the first wind turbine designed for energy generation in 1888 at his Euclid Avenue house.
There’s history behind Dr. Rashidi’s work and the Indians’ assistant director of ballpark operations, Brad Mohr, was eager to partner with Dr. Rashidi and his CSU team when they proposed their specialized system in November of 2008.
“We’ve wanted to do a wind turbine project, but initially the technology wasn’t there,” Mohr says. “But when I gave a speech to a group from Cleveland’s corporate sustainability network, someone from CSU talked to me afterwards and said they had a professor who had invented this experimental wind turbine. They wanted to talk and from there that was that.”
With the grants Dr. Rashidi received from both the Department of Energy and the State of Ohio, he has managed to develop two patented turbines.
One is now perched atop Progressive Field, while his original turbine sits on top of CSU’s Plant Services Building.
Erected in 2009, the Plant Services Building turbine differs from the Progressive Field turbine, as it employs a cylindrical structure in place of a spiral to capture and deflect wind energy.
Both Dr. Rashidi and Mohr want to use the original turbine as a control when monitoring the Progressive Field corkscrew.
According to Mohr, the Plant Services Turbine generates 10,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, while both he and Dr. Rashidi expect the Progressive Field corkscrew to generate upwards of 25,000 hours per year — enough energy to power two-and-a-half houses.
These numbers pale in comparison to the estimated 18,000,000 kilowatt hours that Progressive Field can generate during any given season, but reducing the stadium’s electricity costs isn’t either man’s goal.
“It is an educational statement for the younger generation,” Dr. Rashidi says. “What the ballpark is doing is to have kids from elementary school through high school see that we are being innovative and trying to design something that can have an impact on the economy around the country.”
Before the new baseball season even began, CSU president Ronald M. Berkman hailed the project and Dr. Rashidi’s work as exemplifying CSU’s mission in providing “engaged learning,” which allows students to participate in projects and see results implemented in real world settings.
Dr. Rashidi credits several master’s students with helping him craft three-dimensional models of the project.
Along with CSU student participation, the Indians enlisted Hudson, Ohio, construction company CT Taylor to erect the wind turbine. This completed Dr. Rashidi’s full-circle commitment to Northeast Ohio, as the project was designed, manufactured and placed in the region.
If the turbine generates its theoretical output, then Dr. Rashidi will focus on his next goal: augmenting the turbine’s design for better, more efficient manufacturing.
“One of the aspects I have claimed in our patents is that we can make the corkscrew as a large, inflatable balloon and secure it with bungee chords,” he says. “The only thing the spiral does is deflect wind, so it doesn’t need to be heavy. I want to figure out how to make the spiral lighter and at a lesser cost.”
The results of the Indians’ partnership with Dr. Rashidi and CSU weren’t clear by the time the Toronto Blue Jays had outlasted the Indians over 16 record-setting innings.
However, for a city known for its tragic sports history and formerly stagnant economic past, Dr. Rashidi’s successes could provide a boon for a newly optimistic Cleveland.
“I absolutely see Cleveland as a potential center for wind-energy technology,” Rashidi says. “This is truly a Cleveland product.”
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