CORAL GABLES, FLA. — The University of Miami (UM) College of Engineering has received funding from the Corporación Andina de Fomento to undertake a feasibility study for a new experimental facility located in Panama, Fla. The proposed Water Tunnel of the Americas at the Panama Canal (WTAPC) would be the largest water tunnel facility in the world.
The experimental facility would greatly benefit the construction, naval, aerospace, and automobile industries on a global scale, by providing unique capabilities to conduct ground-breaking research. The project is aimed at advancing the fundamental understanding of aerodynamics and fluid-structure interaction and translating the findings in improved designs, analysis methodologies, and tools.
“The facility would enable researchers to test models of structures they want to build, including vehicles, buildings, and turbines,” said Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of the UM Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department and PI of this project. “The tunnel would also enable scientists to determine forces of extreme weather on buildings and structures by replicating real-life conditions on a larger scale than is currently possible.”
The tunnel would have a test section of 4x4m width by 20m in length, and would allow a water velocity of up to 20m/s to be maintained for 60 seconds. These characteristics would make WTAPC the largest and most advanced water tunnel facility in the world based on the size of the test section, mass flow rate, and flow speed.
“A water tunnel is the natural progression from a research wind tunnel,” Nanni said. “Water and wind have similar effects on structures and materials, but with water, one can maximize the dynamic effect because it’s denser than air.”
Existing water tunnels are closed loops that use electricity and demand energy to operate, but the new tunnel would be a “green” project, because it would use a blow-down water tunnel design that generates power by periodically allowing the water stored in the Panama Canal Maddem Dam to flow down through the tunnel, and use the force of the water to test a broad range of man-made structures.
“We are using the force of nature to operate a research facility without impacting the energy demand,” Nanni explained. “The proposed design stands on sound ground from both a technical and sustainability standpoint, while the scientific and economic relevance of such a research facility for Panama and the region is unprecedented.”
Once constructed and possibly coupled with existing and new UM complementary facilities such as, the Miami Wind wind tunnel, the UM Supercomputing Center, and the wind-wave-storm surge simulator at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, it would help create a transformational regional hub for research that would enable scientists and engineers to address the challenges of extreme weather threatening the safety of our communities and the world.