January 06, 2017

InnovateMass Awardee Developing High-Durability Turbine

Emily Izzo, Project Administrator for IIS

The drive out to Hadley on a balmy summer morning is lovely – the bucolic scenery, fresh air and occasional tractor on the Pike are quite the treat for the InnovateMass team from Boston, and it’s almost tempting to call it a day at 9:30 am and simply open a book under a shady tree.

In fact, that exact scene is the backdrop for Hadley Propeller, where inside the engineers of Black Island Wind Turbines are designing, building and testing wind turbines designated for the toughest climates on earth. Black Island is the maker of the HR-3, a wind turbine specifically created to prevail under the combined pressures of extreme temperatures, Category 5 wind speeds, marine environments and super critical loads. This type of reliable energy generation is crucial in any situation where a loss of power can endanger lives: isolated research facilities, desert bases, and military outposts in particular. That same durability, at a lower generating level, is the goal for the HR-1, currently under development with funding from a MassCEC InnovateMass Grant. 

Black Island Wind's turbine rides on a pickup truck to simulate extreme temperatures.

The HR-1 is the next step in Black Island’s development of a brand based on high-reliability renewable energy generation, and boasts an 18% improvement in productivity per unit area over the HR-3. With funding from both InnovateMass and the MassCEC Internship Program, co-founders Bill Stein and Patrick Quinlan have been able to assemble a team of engineering interns from local universities and colleges, train them in wind technology, shop etiquette and other crucial skills, and construct the prototype turbine whose testing we were lucky enough to witness.

While our group was given a tour of the shop and the rundown on Black Island’s history, the interns mounted the prototype turbine on the front of a red pickup truck to prepare for testing. As comical as it sounds, this type of testing can provide valuable data on the energy being generated, even at low speeds over the bumpy, unpaved road being used for this experiment. By collecting such data, Stein and Quinlan are able to assess power generated, pitch and rotor speed. This process also monitors and records the wind speeds at which the turbine’s design causes it to pitch backward, one of the key innovations behind these machines’ incredible durability.

Despite being named for the isolated Antarctic island where four of the flagship HR-3 turbines maintain critical power, it’s clear from a conversation with the staff that Black Island’s connection to Western Mass is an important part of the small company’s culture. In addition to use of the neighboring farm’s driveway for the turbine-truck experiments and the interns’ roots at local schools, each employee is also a nearby resident, and many bike or walk to work each day. Despite the far-flung destinations of their products, the manufacture of the HR-1 and HR-3 also have a significant impact much closer to home: creating one-of-a-kind educational opportunities, meaningful R&D in clean energy generation and a homegrown manufacturing presence right here in Western Mass.                                                   

The staff of Black Island Wind Turbine poses with their turbine blade.

The Black Island staff poses in the shop with a model of the HR3 turbine. Pictured are Patrick Quinlan, Bill Stein and Rachel Wenner with interns Travis Nadow, Stephen Hicks and Nate Reyno.