They’re too loud, they could harm wildlife, they cast long shadows and have too many parts to maintain. All of these statements about wind turbines are usually true, but they don’t have to be, as these 13 intriguing wind power concepts and innovations prove. Check out amazing new turbine designs that are quiet, blade-free, made of more sustainable materials, portable and more efficient than ever, in addition to a few other cool applications of wind energy.
Bird-Safe, Quiet Turbines
It’s quiet, it’s safe and it generates even more energy than standard turbines. This design is one of many new technologies that are challenging perceptions about how much we could depend on wind power to supplement our energy needs. Professor Farzad Safael, Director of the University of Wollongong’s ICT Research Institute, has designed a wind turbine that can be installed on skyscrapers and other large buildings, using gently moving panels to gather wind energy while blending in with the architecture.
Bladeless Turbine at Delft University
A somewhat similar idea takes that quiet, bird-safe approach one step further: it has no moving parts. The bladeless turbine developed by Mecanoo architects and the University of Deflt uses the movement of electrically charged water droplets moving across a framework of steel tubes to generate power. There’s no noise pollution, no big shadows, and no worries about wildlife getting injured by the blades.
Solar-Powered Wind Turbine
Scientists at the University of Liverpool pump up the power-producing capabilities of a standard turbine by adding solar panels to the blades. One potential problem with this design was the possibility of the solar panels reflecting beams of light, which could cause aircraft crashes and be a major problem for nearby residents. The researchers got around this by devising a tinted solar panel that won’t reflect the rays of the sun.
Wind-Powered Antarctic Polar Rover
An autonomous research vessel roaming Antarctica to gather data about global warming is powered by its own integrated vertical-axis wind turbine. The Polar Rover, owned by Beijing’s Aeronautics and Astronautics University, is equipped with Urban Green Energy’s HoYi! turbine. Both are capable of withstanding the punishing extremes of polar weather.
Harvesting Wind Energy Produced by Trains
Anyone who has ever stood near a high-speed train (image) as it barrels by is aware of the wind they can produce – so why don’t we use that? A particularly intriguing idea for large cities, where turbines might not be practical, this concept developed by students at the Kalindi College at Delhi University aims to place small turbines throughout the city’s metro network, each of which could produce up to 200 watts of electricity per hour.
The Wind Explorer is a small, lightweight carbon fiber car that has traveled 3,000 miles across Australia on lithium-ion batteries and a small wind turbine. The portable 20-foot wind turbine gathers energy when the vehicle isn’t moving, and a kite actually helps pull it along when there’s enough wind to rely on.
World’s Most Efficient Wind Turbine
The world’s most efficient wind turbine is the 2.5-120 by GE, a high-output turbine that features a 25% increase in efficiency and 15% increase in power output over the company’s current models. It creates a significant amount of energy even at low wind speed sites.
Wind Turbine That Doesn’t Need Wind
How can you gather wind energy when there’s no wind? Apple has filed a patent that might just answer that question, for a turbine that generates electricity from heat. Whereas traditional turbines use the kinetic energy of the moving blades to generate power, this turbine converts that rotational energy into heat that can be stored in a ‘low-heat-capacity fluid’ until it’s needed.
All the Power, Half the Parts
Part of the problem with conventional wind turbines is that all of those various parts require a lot of maintenance. Simplification can make wind power more affordable for more applications. One design from Siemens overcomes these obstacles with 50% less parts than other turbines of the same size. The main shaft, gear box and high-speed generator is replaced with a single low-speed generator for a leaner, lighter turbine.
The world’s first wooden wind turbine has been erected in Hanover, Germany. Made by a company called TimberTower, this new design gets around the limitations of steel, which can be an environmental problem in itself. Producing steel requires a lot of energy and releases a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is kind of ironic when you’re using it to generate greener renewable power. The turbine is made of a system of glued laminated timber panels.
Smaller Bladeless Bird-Friendly Turbine
The pressure of wind alone, rather than its ability to turn turbine blades, could be enough to produce power without the harmful effects that blades can have on wildlife. Tunisian company Saphon Energy has developed a turbine that takes its inspiration from sailboats, with a dish-like surface that can retain up to 80% of the wind’s energy, as opposed to the 30% retained by most conventional designs.
Adjustable, Portable Turbine in a Shipping Container
This wind turbine doesn’t need to be permanently installed; it rises up out of a shipping container, making it ultra-portable. The new 50kW turbine by San Diego-based Uprise Energy can be moved for better access to windy conditions as needed, and it even rotates up to 360 degrees automatically when it senses the direction of optimal air currents.
Ionic Wind Thrusters
Here’s an example of wind power being used in a different way: as a sustainable alternative to conventional propulsion technologies like jet engines. A team from MIT is developing ionic wind thrusters, which uses a current passing between two electrodes to generate thrust without the need for fuel or motors. Ionic thrusters are silent and give off no heat. Theoretically, they could be used to power all sorts of things, like vehicles and airplanes, but they’re not quite that powerful yet.