UW-Superior Save Bees build a Beehive Wind Shield™
#LSN_News University of Wisconsin-Superior
SUPERIOR, WISCONSIN – March 7, 2019 (LSN) — One of the greatest challenges faced by beekeepers, particularly in polar climates, is the seasonal loss of beehives. On average, beekeepers in the United States lose about 30 percent of their hives during the winter months, with areas in the Upper Midwest losing as much as 50 percent. These losses translate into significant ecological and financial costs.
Edward Burkett, University of Wisconsin-Superior biology professor, experienced this issue acutely in 2016 when all the hives in the UW-Superior bee apiary were lost during the winter months. He had just established the apiary on campus that year as part of the university’s Urban Honey Bee Project — an education, research and community service initiative designed to engage undergraduate students in research with honey bees.
Doc Bee (as he is known by his students) came up with an idea to build a Beehive Wind Shield™, a device he believed would help solve the problem, and mentioned it one day to his friend and colleague, Kenn Raihala, a retired mechanical engineer at UWS.
“I told Kenn about my idea and he said, ‘I can build that.’ I originally thought he’d just build a few devices and I’d put them on my own hives and those in the UWS apiary, and that would be it,” said Burkett. “But, Kenn is an inventor, so he did a patent search and couldn’t find anything close to what we had created.”
The Beehive Wind Shield™ is an innovative solution to a complex problem that arises in cold climates. Bees beat their wings inside the hive to keep it about 88 degrees, the temperature needed to survive. However, the heat and water vapor created by the bees causes condensation to form on the top of the hive in cold temperatures, which drips down on the bees and kills them.
“So, beekeepers have a dilemma,” said Burkett. “They need the ventilation to keep the condensation down, but the air can also chill the bees and kill them. The Beehive Wind Shield™ is designed to protect the hive from wind infiltration while still promoting ventilation.”
Burkett and Raihala have optimized the design to reduce wind velocity entering hives by 93 percent. Their initial small-scale tests resulted in a 25 percent hive loss, a marked improvement over the local average of 50 percent. Students at UW-Superior are now working with Burkett to build hives with sensors in them to test and record data on a larger scale.
Burkett and Raihala’s invention has captured the attention of WiSys, an independent, nonprofit supporting organization of the UW System that facilitates the creation and transfer of innovations from the UW System to the marketplace.
“Dr. Burkett’s and Mr. Raihala’s wind shield was of great interest to us as it was a perfect example of applied research that addresses a real-world problem that could ultimately provide economic and societal impact for the state and beyond,” said Jennifer Cook, WiSys associate director.
Currently, the Beehive Wind Shield™ is classified as patent pending in the U.S. It is the first technology from UW-Superior for which WiSys has pursued patent protection.
The invention could provide a powerful educational and entrepreneurial opportunity for UW System students, as well. WiSys has partnered with the UW-Oshkosh Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to provide motivated and entrepreneurial-minded students with the opportunity to start a business around patent-pending intellectual property from the WiSys portfolio. The Beehive Wind Shield™ is one of an original list of five technologies currently being assessed by a student team for business plan development.
“We are hopeful that a startup opportunity will result from this pilot program, providing a route to market for the Beehive Wind Shield™ in the near future,” said Cook.
“I’ve learned to never ignore the obvious,” said Burkett. “This was such a simple idea that was right in front of us, but apparently no one had done it before. This could be a solution to a centuries-old problem for beekeepers.”