Third World Wind Power

Shawn Frayne is a 26-year-old inventor based in Mountain View, California, winner of the Popular Mechanics 2007 Breakthrough Award, who has devised a way to harness the potential of wind without the need for conventional wind turbines.

As Frayne explains, conventional wind turbines don’t scale down well because there’s too much friction in the gearbox and other components: "With rotary power, there’s nothing out there that generates under 50 watts".

The Windbelt gets around these problems by putting aside rotation entirely. Instead, a method has been developed by which a taut, vibrating membrane, coupled with a no-contact, direct-drive electrical generator, can tap the energy of flowing air.

By studying the way vibrations caused by the wind (aeroelastic flutter) led to the collapse in 1940 of Washington’s Tacoma Bridge, Frayne came up with the idea for the Windbelt, which is basically a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils.

The Windbelt is the world’s first turbine-less wind generator -- a completely new way to look at wind power which is changing the landscape of the field.
Prototypes have been capable of generating 40 milliwatts in 10-mph slivers of wind, making his device 10 to 30 times as efficient as the best microturbines and enough to power LED lamps and radios.

The Windbelt technology was originally conceived in 2004, during a trip to Petite Anse, Haiti. This fishing village near the coast was not connected to an electrical grid, and the only lighting available was diesel-powered or kerosene-based.

The Windbelt fulfilled its original design criteria while demonstrating 10x the efficiency of the state-of-the-art in micro-turbine technology on these scales.
Now, Humdinger is poised to take this technology and apply it to a wide array of fields, from rural lighting to energy harvesting for wireless sensors in ‘smart buildings’.

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, and has a whole section of their website dedicated to WindMills, sees many advantages in Frayne's invention: “If Shawn’s innovation breaks, locals can fix it. If a solar panel breaks, the family is out a panel.”
“There’s not a huge amount of innovation being done for people making $2 to $4 per day,” Haas added. “Shawn’s work is definitely needed.”
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