Harnessing wind for power: A green internship that matters
NORTH CHARLESTON — By the time Leigh Allison graduates from Clemson University, the biosystems engineering major from Mount Pleasant will be a seasoned workplace veteran.
Her résumé not only will come with a degree from Clemson, it’ll be boosted by a series of internships that have given her hands-on experience on a scale she could not receive anywhere else in the world.
That kind of close-quarters learning in a real-world setting could be just what it takes to set her apart from the job-hunting competition. Her internships have all come at the same Clemson institute — and she’s not the only one to benefit from such a unique opportunity.
For 10 weeks during the summer, students have worked alongside the Clemson University Restoration Institute project team and partners statewide during the detailed design and initial construction of what will be the world’s most advanced wind turbine drivetrain testing facility.
All interns work under the supervision of Nick Rigas, Clemson University senior scientist and director of the drivetrain testing facility, and project manager Jim Tuten.
During this year’s internship, Allison will work with the building’s contractor toward the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification of the building.
This is the third time Allison has benefited from a Clemson internship in North Charleston. During the summer of 2007, immediately before her junior year at Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, Allison shadowed engineers as they erected a 160-foot-tall wind-monitoring tower at the Restoration Institute. The purpose of the project was to help determine the feasibility of offshore wind farms in South Carolina.
Last summer, she worked on the environmental assessment for the testing facility as a liaison between Clemson and the project’s environmental engineers.
Such opportunities are almost too good to be true, Allison said.
“I attend meetings and learn about next-generation technology. These are ideas that are on a level I might only dream about if it wasn’t for these internships,” she said. “There isn’t anywhere else in the world that can offer this experience.”
For Seth Strickland, an industrial engineering major from Summerville who graduated in 2010 after a summer internship at the Restoration Institute, his experience at CURI helped him land a job at Boeing Co. in North Charleston and prepare for life after college.
During his summer at CURI, Strickland assisted with planning, layout and logistics of the testing facility. Today, he is a manufacturing engineering planner working on the 787 Dreamliner.
And it’s not only Clemson students who are gaining valuable workplace experience from the internships. For Philip Meyer, a physics graduate of the College of Charleston, the opportunity could help launch the next chapter in his life.
Meyer, who plans to work for a year before applying to a Clemson graduate program, is spending his summer at the Restoration Institute working on a direct torque measurement system for the drivetrain test rigs. It’s advanced work for the recent graduate, who suddenly finds himself at the leading edge of innovation.
“Everyone knows the drivetrain project is taking engineering to a new level, but I didn’t really appreciate what that meant until I got involved,” Meyer said.
The $98 million testing facility will be the largest of its kind in the world and places one of the most important sites for wind energy research and development in South Carolina. And Clemson students are at the very beginning of its development.
The project, scheduled for completion by the end of 2012, is funded by a $45 million U.S. Department of Energy grant and matched by $53 million of public and private funds. The award was the largest single grant ever received by the University.
The facility will be capable of full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drivetrain systems for wind turbines up to 15 megawatts. A drivetrain takes energy generated by a turbine’s blades and increases the rotational speed to drive the electrical generator, similar to the transmission in a car.
Rigas said the testing facility is pushing the barriers of engineering, and the project’s interns are part of that innovation. These internships provide an aspect to their education they might not experience in the classroom, he said.
“Our interns are working alongside engineers from companies external to Clemson University,” Rigas said. “They must learn very quickly if they want to keep up, and this talented group has hit the ground running.”
In addition to Allison, this year’s interns at the Restoration Institute are
- Lucas Bryson, a Clemson University civil engineering student from Anderson. Bryson, a senior, is working on key aspects of the deconstruction and preconstruction of the existing testing facility building.
- Nick Willis, a Clemson University electrical engineering student from Prosperity. Willis, a senior, is working on electrical design simulation with electrical engineering Ph.D. candidate J. Curtiss Fox.
Also related to the drivetrain project, two Clemson University interns are based at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken.
- Andrew Brownlow, a junior, is a civil engineering student from Aiken. He is working on vibration analysis models and software for the drivetrain test rigs.
- Tyler Shake, a senior, is an electrical engineering student from Aiken. He is supporting the testing facility data collection systems, among other initiatives.
At the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville, mechanical engineering master’s degree student Sarva Kalyan Chakravarthy is working on multi-body simulation of the facility’s test rigs.
John Kelly, Clemson University vice president for economic development and executive director of the Restoration Institute, said the internships and hands-on opportunities do more than complement the students’ studies.
“We have wonderful educators at Clemson, but we want our students to stay in South Carolina after they graduate,” Kelly said. “Internships at the Restoration Institute and at our partners will show these students they have a bright future in their home state — and show potential employers what they have to offer.”
The drivetrain testing facilities project partners are: The Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority; the S.C. Department of Commerce; the state of South Carolina; S.C. Public Railways; S.C. State Ports Authority; Renk Labeco Test Systems, Choate Construction; AEC Engineering; S&ME; Tony Bakker and James Meadors.
The Clemson University Restoration Institute
The mission of the Clemson University Restoration Institute is to advance knowledge in integrative approaches to the restoration and sustainability of historic, ecological and urban infrastructure resources, and drive economic growth. The institute’s vision is to build a sustainable future through education, collaborative restoration research and strategic partnerships.