Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wind energy technology continues to evolve

Shawn Frayne us proof positive that real wealth (as Bucky Fuller often reminded us) is know-how and the most valuable and plentiful renewable energy source in the world is appropriately focused and applied human creativity and ingenuity. If you really need a shot of hope these days, don't look to Washington and politicians. Instead look for people like Shawn and the other winners of Popular Mechanics "Breakthrough Awards". They are the individuals who are searching for real solutions to the critical problems facing humanity.

The windbelt technology developed by Shawn Frayne has the potential for complementing utility-scale wind technology with units that can be economically scaled to individual and community applications. Does it work? We won't know for sure until some units are up and running which hopefully will be soon. The most important thing, I believe, is simply that people like Shawn are focusing their energy and considerable talents on things that matter. (GW)

Windbelt, Cheap Generator Alternative Set to Power Third World

Working in Haiti, Shawn Frayne, a 28-year-old inventor based in Mountain View, Calif., saw the need for small-scale wind power to juice LED lamps and radios in the homes of the poor. Conventional wind turbines don’t scale down well—there’s too much friction in the gearbox and other components. “With rotary power, there’s nothing out there that generates under 50 watts,” Frayne says. So he took a new tack, studying the way vibrations caused by the wind led to the collapse in 1940 of Washington’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge (aka Galloping Gertie).

Frayne’s device, which he calls a Windbelt, is a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils. Prototypes have generated 40 milliwatts in 10-mph slivers of wind, making his device 10 to 30 times as efficient as the best microturbines. Frayne envisions the Windbelt costing a few dollars and replacing kerosene lamps in Haitian homes. “Kerosene is smoky and it’s a fire hazard,” says Peter Haas, founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, which helps people in developing countries to get environmentally sound access to clean water, sanitation and energy. “If Shawn’s innovation breaks, locals can fix it. If a solar panel breaks, the family is out a panel.”

Frayne hopes to help fund third-world distribution of his Windbelt with revenue from first-world applications—such as replacing the batteries used to power temperature and humidity sensors in buildings. “There’s not a huge amount of innovation being done for people making $2 to $4 per day,” Haas says. “Shawn’s work is definitely needed.”

In a conventional wind generator, gears help transfer the
motion of the spinning blades to a turbine where an electric
current is induced. The Windbelt is simpler and more
efficient in light breezes—a magnet mounted on a vibrating
membrane simply oscillates between wire coils.

2007 Breakthrough Awards /// The Innovators /// Shawn Frayne


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