MORGANTOWN, W.Va.--All students in the mechanical and aerospace engineering program at West Virginia University take a senior design course to fulfill graduation requirements. Some students use it as a chance to explore the boundaries of their creation while others see it as a way to develop an idea they've been playing with since they began studying.
As Justin Chambers, a 2012 mechanical engineering graduate and current doctoral student in the program, began to think of his senior design project, he thought to both expand boundaries and create a useable product to solve a problem.
The original plan was to develop a portable, efficient wind turbine that military personnel could carry that would provide energy to power their electronic devices in the field. While working through his project, however, Chambers saw a market for commercial use of his designs.
In 2013, his company, WindPax, was formed. Chambers and his team have developed a line of collapsible, portable, and efficient wind turbines that he plans to sell to campers, hikers, and others who need power while off the grid.
"I saw a need and knew we could meet it," explained Chambers, a native of Glen Dale, W.Va. "In our highly connected society, people need power in remote areas."
There are other alternatives for portable energy, but Chambers explained that these are both heavy and unreliable. For example, backup batteries take up space in a hiker's backpack and add weight to the load. They can also lose their charge.
"This is a renewable energy source that can be charged at anytime, anywhere."
WindPax uses patent-pending technology to capture wind and provide power to devices. There are two designs: the Wisp produces 25 watts of power while the Breeze supplies 100 watts of power.
Large wind turbines, which are well-known sources of renewable energy, spin on a horizontal axis. The turbines designed by Chambers turn on a vertical axis, meaning they can capture wind from all directions.
The turbines are attached to a telescopic stand, which collapses into itself, making the entire package only 14 inches long and 2.5 inches in diameter when packaged.
Recently, WindPax passed its Kickstarter campaign goal. Kickstarter is a website built to help start-ups launch their business by allowing others to pre-order the products and stay in touch with the progress. The goal is to start manufacturing the products and launch them to the public in the spring of 2015.
Chambers said that he has a "unique vision for what consumers want.
"We are always looking for feedback. We use them ourselves!" he explained.
Chambers' vision for his company also includes third world outreach. He sees WindPax as a way to provide affordable, efficient and low-maintenance energy to people who would have no other option.
In March, Chambers won a $2,500 grant at the TransTech Energy Business Development Conference for WindPax. He also won first place at the 2013 and 2014 Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge at WVU.
Chambers has surrounded himself with a well-rounded team, all of whom call WVU their alma mater.James Smith, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the Center of Industrial Research Applications, is the company's academic and research mentor. He was Chambers' professor for his senior design course. Andrew Lowery is an adjunct professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and connects the energy created from the turbines to the electrical components of the product. Both of these advisers earned their degrees from WVU.
James Smith, II, is head of accounting and finance for WindPax and is himself an entrepreneur. He received his bachelor's degrees in business administration and accounting from WVU.
Chad Panther also received his degrees from WVU in aerospace engineering. He is a research assistant for CIRA, focusing on renewable energy captures. Panther is responsible for testing the products in the wind tunnels.
Ephraim Pittore, a junior in mechanical engineering, is assisting Chambers with the design and development of the products.
Together, they have helped design a product that Chambers knows is unique and visionary.
"We want to grow a profitable company," he said. "We have a great vision for what we want to do with our products and we have a passion for entrepreneurship."
Chambers says the most fun he has on his job is "playing" with his products.
"I work all the time, but I'm playing," he said. "I'll go out to the lake for a day and have fun, but I'm also working because I'm testing and refining my products."
For more information on news and events in the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral
College Relations office, 304-293-4086
Office of the Dean, 304-293-4157
Other College administrative and department offices: