WiSys Technologies

Wind Shield to Improve Overwinter Beehive Survival

WiSys is seeking a strategic commercial partner for development of this beehive wind shield for mass manufacturing, as well as partners for marketing, sales, and distribution.

WiSys Technology Number: T180020
Patent Filed: December 4, 2017
Status
Patent Pending
Stage of Development:

Preliminary studies of an initial prototype have suggested 90% reduction in penetration of the beehive by 20-mile-per-hour winds, as well as a 50% improvement in survivability of hives compared with recent regional averages. New prototypes have been optimized and produced for a larger-scale winter survival study. Further testing is also needed to quantify impact on thermodynamics, aerodynamics, and passive ventilation.

Overview

Honey bees are pollinators critical to many realms, including ecosystem maintenance and the agricultural industry. They are estimated to have an overall annual economic impact of $16.8 billion (14.2 billion euros) in Europe (2017) and $15 billion in the United States (2014). A substantial proportion of honey bees are kept in managed colonies, or beehives, and the global beekeeping market in 2017 had an estimated value of $8.81 billion, including a $341 million value in the United States alone.

Unfortunately, seasonal loss of beehives has increased in recent years, with average winter hive losses over the last decade in the U.S. estimated at approximately 30%, which is at least double the previous historic national average of 10-15% winter hive loss. The costs of such losses compound for beekeepers. For example, a commercial beekeeper with a 300-hive capacity would experience a loss of about $60,000 in honey profits with a 30% winter loss, depending on the age of the hives. In addition, to simply replace the hives, the beekeeper would need approximately $13,500 in total at $150 per hive plus roughly $3600 in labor.

While there are many complex reasons that a beehive colony might die in the winter, two of the main causes are condensation and cold temperatures. To prepare the hives for winter, beekeepers often wrap roofing felt around the hive, promoting insulation. However, over the winter, bees respire moisture, raising condensation in the hive. If too much condensation builds, it can drip back down into the hive and kill the bees in the cold. To reduce condensation, beekeepers often use strategies to enhance ventilation in the hive, including putting a simple screen over the hive entry. The screen prevents pests like rodents from entering, while still allowing airflow. However, this enhanced airflow allows gusts of cold wind to enter the hive, making it nearly impossible for the bees to maintain adequate heat despite insulation around the rest of the hive. A strategy that allows ventilation to minimize condensation while still blocking direct entry of wind flow would be an ideal solution that could improve winter beehive survival rates.

Invention

University of Wisconsin-Superior researchers have developed a new technology that shields the beehive from wind while still promoting ventilation. This device has a curved structure that installs easily over the standard beehive entrance. Using an initial prototype, preliminary laboratory tests have indicated reduced wind infiltration, preventing 90% of entry of 20 mile per hour winds without inhibiting passive ventilation. Bees adapt to the device on the hive and are able to freely enter and leave the hive. Furthermore, 6 of 8 Wisconsin beehives fitted with prototypes survived the winter of 2017-2018. Although a small sample size, this 25% hive loss rate suggested a marked improvement over the local average 50% loss for the previous 5-10 winters estimated by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Researchers have further optimized the device design and created new prototypes for testing on a larger scale in the winter of 2018-2019. If the larger study reinforces the preliminary outcomes seen in the previous winter, this new beehive wind shield will be a promising solution to minimize both condensation and cold winds, thereby improving winter beehive survival.

Applications

  • Shields beehives from cold wind in winter;
  • Permits passive ventilation of beehive.

Benefits

  • Estimated 50% improvement of overwinter survivability of beehives;
  • Substantially reduces costs from beehive loss, including hive replacement and lost honey profits; 
  • Allows bees to maintain sufficient hive temperatures in the winter;
  • Minimizes lethal build-up of condensation inside hive in the winter.
Institution
UW-Superior UW-Superior
Inventors
Edward Burkett
Professor of Biology
Kenneth Raihala
Mechanical Engineer