The professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Western Ontario got word in June that the federal and provincial governments will contribute $19 million toward building the world's first hexagonal wind tunnel, called the WindEEE Dome.
The project is a wish list come true for Hangan who, as a world-renowned wind expert, has spent the past 20 years studying how the wind affects buildings, bridges, transmission lines, wind farms, trees and others structures, as well as the wind's role in spreading airborne pollutants.
But those studies relied on conventional wind tunnels, which are essentially long rooms that use strong fans to blow the air in a straight line.
Hangan's tunnel design is far more elaborate, and much larger.
It will be a six-sided structure that's 40 metres across. The walls and ceiling will be embedded with a matrix of 240 fans, each about a half-metre wide and capable of creating wind speeds up to 108 kilometres per hour.
The fans will also be capable of operating in reverse and changing direction, creating the potential to physically simulate all sorts of weather chaos.
"If you inject air into the dome through the peripheral walls and inject air at the top, you can generate tornados. It can produce storm downbursts, low-level jets, and gusts.
"These are the kinds of winds that are responsible for more than 60 per cent of any type of structural damage in North America," says Hangan.
But existing wind tunnels can't accurately simulate these effects. Hangan says there is a 15 per cent margin of error when relying on existing models. He's aiming to use his new dome to reduce that margin to 5 per cent. No doubt, the insurance industry will become his close friend.
"There is nothing like this (dome) anywhere in the world," he says. "One of the main uses of this will be for improving wind farm (and wind turbine) design. And we're already thinking about phase two and three, in which we'll bring in water to simulate rain and floods. Also particulates like sand and dust and ice. I really think of this as a weather machine."
Even the floor will perform some neat tricks. It will be engineered so that the topography can be changed in a couple of hours, meaning hills and rocks and other wind-disrupting obstacles can be added to the test zone, which itself will be large enough to accommodate a scaled-down wind farm.
It's easy to see movie studios becoming interested in this facility, and no doubt the university will recoup some of its costs by leasing out the dome for such purposes. Can you imagine the awesome storm scenes that could be filmed in such a controlled environment? Hagan, for this reason, accurately describes his pet project as a "big toy for big kids."
But it's not all fun. Before the university breaks ground on the project, likely before the end of 2010, it has to show it can build and source out components for the dome without exceeding its projected $23.7 million cost. It also has to secure another $5 million.
"The university is raising funds for the rest, and we're looking for partnerships," he says.
Few would know this, but the University of Western Ontario has been a global centre for wind engineering since the 1960s.
It has helped test designs for the CN Tower and many of the world's tallest buildings and largest bridges.
The WindEEE Dome merely reinforces this leadership, and makes Ontario that much more attractive as a place to innovate, develop, manufacture and deploy the next generation of wind technologies.