WASHINGTON – It looks like a pile of oversized tin cans. But the gently revolving,14-foot-high wood and sheet-metal contraption won $75,000 for Stephen M. Bliley and his team of inventors this week.
Bliley and his PLACES team's design for a windmill that could provide low-cost energy and help preserve the environment was one of seven winners in the first P3 Awards sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Representatives of the winning teams displayed their inventions on the National Mall Monday and Tuesday.
Stephen Lingle,EPA's director of environmental engineering research,said the agency came up with the P3 awards to identify innovative designs for sustainability,to protect the environment,to improve the standard of living and to support economic growth. He said the second objective was to improve university and graduate students' skills and education.
P3 stands for “people,prosperity and planet,” he said.
Bliley,32,who received his master's degree in environmental science Saturday from the University of Colorado at Denver,redesigned a windmill he saw in Michael Hackleman's book,“Wind and Windspinners.”
He changed the model to substitute lighter-weight materials. Unlike traditional windmill designs that include propellers,Bliley's windmill consists of a stack of three metal cylinders on a wooden base. Each cylinder is open on one side,allowing even light winds to enter the windmill and spin it on its base.
“Its kind of hard to miss. You have this big silver thing out here rotating. It's excellent,” said Tim Slagle,an EPA employee. “The thing that struck me is that it's working at the low level of winds we have here.
Bliley's plan is to make it lighter and more cost efficient so that developing countries can use it. He acknowledged University of Colorado at Denver Professor Anu Ramaswami for pushing him to develop his design and enter the contest,even though he is not an engineer.
“She is an incredible teacher who inspired and pushed me,” Bliley said.
Ramaswami said the team will return to India to help address the growing demand for energy for lighting and cooling.
Team PLACES,which stands for “participatory learning and creativity education for sustainability,” plans to offer its three windmill models,one of which is Bliley's,and other energy-efficient innovations to villages in India.
The team also developed a 1½ to 2 watt LED light bulb (light-emitting diode) that uses less energy than common 60 watt household light bulbs.
PLACES and the other six winners were chosen from 66 finalists. Each of the seven will receive grants of up to $75,000 to develop their models. All 66 finalists were given $10,000 to create their designs after judges chose them from a larger number of applicants.
P3 will return next year,Lingle said. EPA has already chosen 66 teams for next year's competition and will announce them before the start of the new school year.
“It was tough to select 66 teams,” Lingle said. “The work they did was excellent. It was a great success.”