Windbelts: wind power without the turbine

Written by adam


We’ve covered micro-wind a number of times here, but I think this may be the coolest innovation I’ve seen in a while: inventor Shawn Frayne has come up with a device that harnesses the power of wind without any rotating parts. Instead, his company’s Windbelts capture energy using fluttering fabric.

You can best understand the process by watching this short video, but basically as moving air passes over a taut membrane, it induces a vibration, somewhat akin to a violin bow. Magnets mounted on the membrane bounce back and forth between metal coils, inducing an electric current.

Like solar cells, the technology is modular and can scale up or down to fit numerous applications. At the micro end of the scale, a palm-sized version of the device can act as the equivalent of dozens of AA batteries. Such tiny generators can be used to power remote sensors or other distributed infrastructure that would otherwise require costly wires or regular battery changes.

Scaling up, Frayne’s company has arranged Windbelts into modular arrays that can be deployed like fencing. The technology could find use in urban environments, to capture the energy from air moving past buildings or bridges. Or the systems can be deployed in the developing world, to provide electricity in places that the grid doesn’t yet reach.

Because the materials involved aren’t exotic — the belts themselves are made of mylar-coated taffeta, which is basically kite fabric — the systems can be easily serviced in the field. Best of all, they’re cheap. At a cost of about $1 per watt of capacity, Windbelts are many times cheaper than today’s solar panels.

Check out the Worldchanging interview with Frayne here. Lots more info on the technology here.

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  1. Julian Cole

    When can I get one? Seriously, this sounds wonderful – the small capital outlay makes it possible for many more people to try it out!

  2. Eric

    I love innovation!

  3. john v

    adam, do you write all the articles on terrapass?

  4. Ingrid Stokholm

    This is fantastic! So simple and yet with the power of creating real change. We need more people like Shawn Frayne!

  5. Adam Stein

    Nope. I write a lot of the articles, but every TerraPass employee contributes, and we have a mix of authors every week.

  6. scribblin

    Ding! Now we’re talking. Electricity cheaper than fossil fuels without inducing inflation. Home run.

  7. scribblin

    Frayne’s Honolulu-based company is called Humdinger Wind Energy (google it). How cool is that?

  8. Paul S

    Anyone that claims 10 to 30 times increase in efficiency is a giant red flag. Has a non-affiliated person done an accurate efficiency comparison study?
    Having said that, it’s tempting to build one and test it myself. It is a very intriguing design.

  9. Julian Cole

    He may be talking about cost-efficiency, but even if not, it’s not absurd. Remember he’s comparing a tiny (inefficient) turbine to the windbelt. The energy losses in a rotating turbine are likely to be large while the windbelt is almost without moving parts…..

  10. Matt

    Brilliant! How could be macro-sized?

  11. Angus

    Thanks, Adam
    A very hopeful piece, very hopeful.
    And it;s being able to get really small, and stay effective – very impressive.
    Hope your Audi is holding up OK

  12. Justin

    Absolutely amazing. Imagine the electric capabilities on moving vehicles. It sounds basically like a tiny magneto used to start radial engines on airplanes. Large scale models would be amazing to see.

  13. Dan

    Solar power is also 1$ a watt so maybe just another option…not many times cheaper.

  14. cw

    It’s nice to see that once we start to take alternative energy seriously, innovations continue to pop up reducing cost and boosting efficiency, just like in any other area of technology. Although we don’t yet take it seriously enough, I see reason for hope.

  15. engineer

    The idea of using a vibrating band to produce power is interesting. However, and this is of practical importance, this is not a viable idea. Maybe this could be a toy for the rich; something to tout about in an attempt to be environmentally conscious. Taking in consideration the minute amount of power that this device produces and the cost to produce the device itself renders this device on this scale worthless. I would wager the guess that it took more energy to produce this, not even accounting for r and d, then this device will every produce in its lifetime of operation. This is not a practical use of wind energy.