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Hastings student assists on wind research project

One Hastings man is getting an in-depth look at what it takes to design, build and study a wind turbine.

The project is run by Eolos, a wind energy research consortium that conducts a broad range of wind energy research. It's biggest project is a field research station at UMore Park in Rosemount, where it is in the process of constructing a 2.5 megawatt wind turbine. Chris Milliren of Hastings has been helping out with the project since January, assisting the associate director.

Milliren is a senior civil engineering student at the University of Minnesota. He started working with Eolos at its St. Anthony Falls lab after his sophomore year of college. It was mostly grunt work at first, he said. He worked about a year in the shop there before he got involved with the stream lab, which involved more research. Milliren said he expected to continue on that track, but the associate director, Jeff Marr, approached him and asked if he would want to participate in the construction project. With just one semester left before graduation, Milliren decided to jump on the opportunity.

"I postponed my last semester of college to do this," he said.

The Eolos turbine is unique in that it's not being built to produce energy. It still will produce energy, which will be sold to Xcel, but its primary purpose is to be a place for researchers to study things such as control system optimization, drag and noise reduction, flow control strategies, strain on the tower and blades, radar interaction and more.

Milliren's work is varied, from putting together posters and demos for an open house last week to coordinating with contractors to taking notes for Marr in meetings. He takes pictures of the construction as well, so that five years down the road researchers can look back and see exactly how it was done.

Although his work is fairly specific to wind turbine engineering, Milliren is glad he put off his classes. The experience he's gaining on the job is teaching him much more than a semester of college would, he said. Besides that, this particular project doesn't lock him into a specific type of engineering work. He's being exposed to real-life structural engineering in the study for the tower itself, soil mechanics related to site placement and topography, aerospace engineering in the design of the blades and electrical engineering as well.

"It includes so many different aspects of engineering," he said.

And while he doesn't get to do any of the engineering work, he does get to peruse the plans. If nothing else, he said, he's improving his communication skills and learning how to relate to other engineers and contractors.

Milliren goes back to school this fall to finish his undergraduate degree, but he's not ready just yet to put Eolos behind him.

"I'd like to continue working on the project for a while," he said.