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‘Ideal solution’

Empowering innovators to develop business skills, solve industry challenges


By Jeff Green

Newfoundland and Labrador’s harsh environment is inspiring a Memorial research team to find innovative ways to convert wind energy into heat.

Wearing a dark-coloured shirt and beige pants, Dan McLean sits in a grey chair.
Dan McLean
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dan McLean (B.Eng.’15) and current PhD student, and Dr. Xili Duan, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, are leading a project to develop a wind turbine system that directly generates heat in a fluid instead of producing electricity in a generator.

The two are also working with Dr. Kevin Pope, an associate professor from the department, who is Mr. McLean’s co-supervisor.

‘Robust and autonomous’

“The wind turbine’s rotating shaft goes directly inside a well-insulated fluid housing,” Mr. McLean explained during a recent interview with the Gazette.

“By agitating the fluid with rotating paddles, the friction generates heat — the same way rubbing your hands together makes them warmer. The goal is to have a system that is robust and autonomous, with applications including off-grid structures, remote communities and greenhouses.”

Ideas towards opportunities

The group credits Memorial’s Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office (TTCO) for helping take their project to the next level.

A unit within the vice-president (research) portfolio, the TTCO supports industrial liaison, technology transfer and commercialization activities at Memorial. It is also a member of the Springboard Atlantic network.

Mr. McLean is completing the TTCO’s Translational R&D Program, which allows graduate students to evaluate the potential of their research for commercialization.

“The team at the TTCO have been a great help and source of support as I try to understand what starting a business might look like,” he said. “Everyone seems genuinely interested in what we’re trying to do. I feel very supported. Through my involvement with the program, I’ve learned a lot about entrepreneurship and made some great contacts. It’s been an important factor as I try to navigate my path forward.”

Further testing

Dr. Duan says his team has also benefitted from other TTCO programs.

Dr. Xili Duan wears a blue coloured shirt and stands in front a marble wall.
Dr. Xili Duan
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

He says another of his graduate students participated in Lab2Market Oceans, which is led by the TTCO.

Lab2Market is a team-based, experiential learning and lean methodology-driven program focused on training graduate students and post-doctoral scholars to become the next corporate innovators.

Each team consists of a student or post-doctoral scholar (entrepreneurial lead), their supervisor (technical lead) and a mentor (industry lead). Lab2Market’s focus is on ocean-related research. The program is being offered as part of the Ocean Startup Project.

“The wind-powered heating device could be an ideal solution to provide clean and sustainable thermal energy.” — Dr. Xili Duan

Dr. Duan was also awarded Springboard Innovation Mobilization Proof-of-Concept funds through the TTCO to test the wind-powered heater.

“The wind-powered heating device has great potential to benefit people in Newfoundland and Labrador, and other northern, especially remote and isolated, regions,” he added.

“These regions have a critical need for heat but often with limited access to electricity, while luckily with rich wind energy resources. The wind-powered heating device could be an ideal solution to provide clean and sustainable thermal energy to people and businesses in these regions.”

To learn more about the TTCO and its resources available to support innovation-driven research and entrepreneurship, and its resources for Memorial researchers, established companies or startups, please visit here.

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