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Mindstorms Mayhem tackles Mount Washington
Finding an alternative energy source to power the things we use in everyday life is one of the most important problems we need to overcome. Oil will become unavailable in 2042, according to the Oxford University Engineering Science Department. That means we need to find an alternative energy source, and in the meantime conserve energy. We need to be careful to choose a power source that is renewable (one that won’t run out) and safe for our environment. The fossil fuels we rely on now do not fit those criteria.

Energy conservation, and alternative energy, are what this year’s First LEGO League theme, “Power Puzzle” is all about. Teams will compete at regional tournaments to qualify for the upcoming NH state tournament on Dec. 8. This Saturday, Nov. 17, several regional tournaments will be hosted for about 80 teams at Hillside Middle School in Manchester, Merrimack High School, Bishop Brady High School in Concord, Hollis/Brookline High School and Daniel Webster College in Nashua.

Teams are required to pick a building in their community, and do an energy audit for that building (collect data, and analyze their power usage). The teams must then use that data to develop conclusions and solutions about how the building could better conserve energy, or switch to a renewable energy source. Team Mindstorms Mayhem from Milford picked the Mount Washington Observatory for their energy audit.

Many people think the high winds on top of Mount Washington make it a great place for a wind turbine. It’s not that the idea is a bad one, but there are two main problems that hinder putting a wind turbine there. Mount Washington is home of the world’s highest recorded wind speeds. Such winds could create a lot of power, but in the ‘70s experts concluded the turbines would be destroyed by the winds. The second problem is rime ice which is very common in the winter on Mount Washington. Rime ice consists of super-cooled water droplets which freeze directly after contact with a surface. The rime ice would build up on the wind turbine at a rate of several inches per hour, thus preventing the blades from turning.

This is a problem that Mindstorms Mayhem would like to solve.

Mindstorms Mayhem has done a lot of research to find existing de-icing technology. A new de-icing method invented by Professor Victor Petrenko, from Dartmouth, makes ice release its molecular and electrical bonds from whatever surface its clinging to. The technology will zap the ice with a tiny electric shock that is only strong enough to melt the thin layer of ice clinging to the surface. The water from the ice will act as a lubricant to help the rest of the ice slide off of the surface.

New design

Mindstorms Mayhem decided to use this method on a new design of wind turbine that can stand up to wind speeds on Mount Washington. The new design is shaped like DNA, a double helix. This design is used in turbines sometimes placed in rivers. But recently experts have found that it can be used when stood up vertically for wind turbines. A double helix would be much stronger than the typical wind turbines you see today, making it ideal for Mount Washington.

Mindstorms Mayhem thought that their solution could be used on top of other mountains, especially ski resorts, anywhere with a lot of wind and winter conditions.