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Windbelts: wind power without the turbine

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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