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.
Having been to Haiti (and other pleasurable tourist destinations), the idea of figuring out affordable renewable power for the developing world is greatly appealing. To alleviate poverty and, well, to help leapfrog the Developing World onto a better development path.
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.
These are some impressive claimes. That much more efficient? But, at what cost?
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.”
Not only inexpensive and replacing some of the dirtiest power uses, but something that locals can repair with little problem. Looks like Popular Mechanics might have chosen a real winner.
Highly recommended, the Wind Belt video.
Hat tip to Jetson Green.