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December 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

Prototype of low-Reynolds facility used for testing microaerial vehicles
Prototype of low-Reynolds facility used for testing microaerial vehicles

Imagine a special chamber that can simulate a wide variety of climates and conditions, everything from arid deserts, extreme cold and conditions found at high altitude and the heat and humidity of the tropics. Imagine a special facility to test roofing materials in simulated hurricane conditions. Imagine an aquarium tank one metre wide and one metre high but as long as an office corridor (25 metres) and filled with what looks like slime instead of water, used to test the aerodynamics of tiny insect-sized aerial vehicles.

As part of its mandate, NRC creates and operates many unique and specialized research facilities such as these, in locations across Canada. These facilities, and their staff, are an attraction for private and public-sector partners involved in collaborations with NRC and are also used to carry out fee-for-service work for clients. The section below rounds up some recent news about several of these unique installations.

Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold

Chamber Specifications

  • Temperature: -60°C to 140°C (-76°F to 284°F); 2°C/minute (3.6°F/min) ramp rate
  • Humidity: 5 to 95% RH between -10°C and 65°C (14°F – 149°F)
  • Altitude: 3000m or 70 kPa absolute pressure (10,000ft or 10psia)
  • Dimensions: 3m (10ft) wide x 3m (10ft) high x 7.6m (25ft) long unobstructed space
  • Load Capacity: 3400 kg (7500lb) with a stress point capacity of 2MPa (300psi)

Government of Canada officials were on hand recently for the opening of the only public facility of its kind in North America. Known as the hydrogen technology environmental chamber (HTEC), the facility will allow companies and researchers to test and evaluate hydrogen vehicles and stationary power systems under a wide range of climatic conditions – all from one location. This is an important step in moving hydrogen and fuel cell products closer to commercialization.

The HTEC, built in Montreal and shipped to Vancouver's NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation, has the ability to subject test articles to extremes of temperature, altitude and humidity under various operating conditions. It will generate accurate, reliable and repeatable data for systems and subsystems under test. This data will be vital for both product development and certification activities. The chamber can accommodate vehicles equivalent in size to a full-size pick-up truck and is equipped with a chassis dynamometer capable of handling up to 187 kW at speeds up to 100 kph. Single stacks, balance of plant and fuel storage systems can also be tested to determine performance and evaluate potential for commercial product launch.

The HTEC was implemented through a partnership between government and industry. The National Research Council Canada, Western Economic Diversification Canada and Fuel Cells Canada provided funding. Public Works and Government Services Canada provided in-kind support.

(Hurricane) Charley was no Angel

Exterior view of NRC-IRC's computer-controlled and monitored 2.4m x 6.0 m (8 x 20-ft) testing tables that provide real-time data about pressure, force and strain on roofing systems.
Exterior view of NRC-IRC's computer-controlled and monitored 2.4m x 6.0 m (8 x 20-ft) testing tables that provide real-time data about pressure, force and strain on roofing systems.

Roofs are constantly exposed to the elements and as such, they are typically one of the first parts of a building to suffer damage during hurricanes, such as Charley, a Category 4 hurricane that ravaged Florida earlier this year causing 25 deaths and an estimated US$11 billion in damages. In hurricane-prone regions it is especially important that the low slope roofs of hospitals, emergency shelters, fire stations and other critical buildings can withstand the forces of persistent, high winds, as well as the extensive and destructive rains that accompany hurricanes.

Interior views of NRC-IRC's computer-controlled testing tables
Interior views of NRC-IRC's computer-controlled testing tables

NRC-IRC, in collaboration with the construction industry and professional organizations, has created new ways for testing and simulating the wind conditions faced by roofing during hurricanes. Using this procedure in NRC-IRC labs, researchers can simulate high wind suction in a special enclosed chamber (see photo sidebar) and then a gust simulator is adjusted to simulate wind fluctuations. Wind gust simulations are usually tested for 4 to 10 hours, with increasing pressure levels, until the roofing system fails. Recently, this dynamic wind uplift test procedure was recognized by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA # A123.21-04). Also noteworthy, one of the members of the team, Dr. Bas Baskaran of NRC-IRC was the only Canadian asked to participate in a study on the effects of Charley, Dr. Baskaran investigated damaged roofing systems and documented the key factors that contributed to damages.

These vehicles have no leg room

Using PIV, researchers literally "seed" a test medium (water, air, etc) with very small particles. A laser light flashes twice in a short time to create a pair of images of the particles, which are recorded by a digital camera. A comparison of these images yields the velocity of the particles which in turn provides valuable information about how the air or fluid flows around the model. This information is essential to create a good vehicle design.

In Ottawa, researchers from the NRC Institute for Aerospace Research (NRC-IAR) are developing a facility to test the flying characteristics of insect-sized micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs). Currently, no such facility exists to accurately measure these characteristics, a fact which has limited progress in this emerging aerospace field. MAVs, which will be able to fly in confined spaces and acquire visual, acoustic and other information through on-board sensors, have numerous market applications that include search and rescue, accident damage assessment, and anti-terrorist surveillance. However, because of their small size, MAVs interact differently with the air, which creates far more resistance and is like flying through molasses for these tiny vehicles, necessitating test facilities that properly simulate these conditions.

NRC's researchers built and tested a pilot of such a facility over the past two years and have recently completed the design for a full-scale test facility which, when constructed, will be the first of its kind in the world. Technology for the future commercial production of this unique facility has been licensed to Toronto-based Aiolos Engineering, a leading manufacturer of wind tunnels.

Testing with the pilot facility achieved a number of innovations. For example, NRC-IAR researchers have adapted a modern measurement technique known as particle image velocimetry (PIV - see sidebar for definition) to the new environment, where the PIV system moves in tandem with the object being tested, similar to the way movie studios use cameras on tracks to capture movement in front of the lens. In the full-scale facility, MAVs attached to a track will cover the length of the 25-metre tank at a rate of up to one metre per second. Using the PIV system, which takes multiple pairs of pictures per second, researchers will create a movie rich with data about how the MAV moves through the tank and how the "air" flows around the vehicle. Using this technique, researchers will get an accurate picture of the flow behaviour, an important consideration when designing aerial vehicles. The team has also made important discoveries about the materials needed to construct the facility.


Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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