Capstone Project at the University of Toronto

Winds of Change has been working closely with the faculty of Industrial and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto since the spring of 2014. The design and build of the windmill has been the result of the efforts of twelve students over two academic years, under the guidance of Assistant Professor Amy Bilton. In 2016/2017 the project turned to sustainable micro irrigation systems, two of which are now installed and working. For the second year in a row, the Winds of Change team took first place out of more than fifty team. The best and the brightest fourth year engineering students now compete for the opportunity to work with Amy on the Winds of Change projects. Lets make 2017/2018 three in a row!

This academic year (2017/2018) the team will undertake two projects:

Project 1 – Development of general guidelines for implementation of drip irrigation systems

Description - Many farmers in Nicaragua deal with arid farming conditions which limit their ability to provide for their families. These farmers require irrigation to grow crops during the dry season.  In this project, the team will optimize the design of drip irrigation systems using local materials to provide families with efficient water usage.  The students will also develop a set of computer tools and guidelines to enable the local NGO to work with farmers to implement future irrigation systems.  The members of the team will also have the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua to conduct background research and/or implement a prototype system developed using the tool.


Project 2 – Development of locally sustainable drinking water treatment

Description - Access to reliable and safe drinking water is a major challenge in remote communities in Nicaragua.  The residents of these communities typically drink water from local wells, which is often contaminated with bacteria and heavy metals.  This is the case in many communities in rural Nicaragua.  In this project, the students will engineer a water treatment solution which can be sustainable implemented using local materials.  The system should be low cost and be able to be maintained by local community members.  Members of the team will work with a local NGO and have the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua to conduct background research and/or implement a prototype.



In 2014/2015 year the team we successfully designed and implemented much of the Winds of Change windmill as a prototype in the Toronto lab. In the 2015/2016 academic year, two teams of four students each further refined the design, developed and tested components for the Braking Systems and the Power Train.  With these enhancements the performance and sustainability of the windmill was improved. Members of the team then traveled to Nicaragua to source, build and install the first working windmill.  Those efforts are captured in the film "The Best of What We Are".

This new windmill was integrated with a new water storage tower and irrigation system built by the local residents of the community. Together the windmill enabled pump, water tank and irrigation system will provide the community with an ongoing reserve of water during the dry season for irrigation of the new community garden and general use. 

The Design/Build process consisted of the following steps: requirements definition, system design, and system construction.


In the first step in the process, the team gathered background information and collected community members input.  Team members read wind and water pumping background, gathered environmental data, and determined site specific constraints.  In October 2014, the team traveled to Pedro Arauz, Nicaragua to conduct resident interviews, perform site surveys, test water quality, and identify local craftsman and materials.  This information was compiled into a set of design requirements for the windmill pump system.


Following the formation of the system requirements, the team worked through a multi-stage design process.  In the first phase, the team generated multiple system concepts which were evaluated based on performance and cost.  The most promising system concept then went through a preliminary basic design to ensure the desired performance would be met.  Finally, a detailed system design was completed and a prototype tested at the University of Toronto.  Design reviews were conducted throughout the process by the project advisory board to ensure the design would meet defined requirements.


In January of 2016, the traveled to Nicaragua to build and install the first windmill. Over a period of seven days they sourced materials from local supplies, fabricated the jigs and parts, assembled them, and and raised the tower. It was a community effort involving a truck, ropes, muscle power and a few prays. It was a moment of triumph and celebration. The team them secured the tower to the foundations that had been built during a previous trip. With only minutes to spare before heading to the airport to fly home, the rope pump was connected, the wind arrived on cue and water flowed from the pipe! In fact, the wind was sufficiently strong as to invoke the automatic brake that disengaged the rotor.

It was a great day! This system will serve as an example for future locally built windmills in the community.