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Alcoa Darrieus VAWT by Paul Gipe

Alcoa, the giant aluminum company, developed a line of phi-configuration Darrieus turbines during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Like their competitor, DAF-Indal in Canada, they were looking for new aluminum products and the Darrieus design used a lot of extruded aluminum in the blades.

The Alcoa turbines were a spin off from research by Sandia National Laboratories. But unlike Sandia’s prototype 17-meter turbine, Alcoa’s design featured three blades. Also Sandia’s prototype used a much more circular rotor than Alcoa’s tall ellipse.

Between 1979 and 1981, Alcoa erected it’s pre-production 25-meter, 500 kW design for the Eugene Water & Electric Board on a recently logged site near Newport, Oregon. (The photo shown here.)

About the same time, Alcoa installed a similar 25-meter turbine in the San Gorgonio Pass at the Southern California Edison test site near Palm Springs. In a famous case of aplomb, Paul Vosburgh, Alcoa’s VAWT program director told a shocked audience of the American Wind Energy Associations annual conference that Alcoa had cancelled the planned tour of the test site. He said (and I am paraphrasing here), “I have bad news and some good news. The bad news is that our turbine has failed and been destroyed. The good news is that we have not had to evacuate Los Angeles.” This was only a few years after Three Mile Island and the message was not lost on the audience or the media.

Following the previous destruction of a much smaller turbine a year earlier in Pennsylvania, Alcoa pulled out of the wind industry. Vosburgh left the Alcoa shortly afterward and started his own firm, VAWTPOWER that later installed a small farm of forty two-blade Darrieus turbines in the San Gorgonio pass. There were two versions of the VAWTPOWER tubine, one 17-meters in diameter, and a second slightly larger.

See also Household-Size Darrieus Installation for a sequence of photos featuring Alcoa’s 8 kW household-size turbine.

See also Paul Vosburgh’s book summarizing research until the early 1980s.

Commercial Applications of Wind Power by Paul Vosburgh, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 9.1 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches, 264 pages, 1983.



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