Remember the tacoma narrow bridge disaster… that every structural engineer studies (or should study).. well, the same forces that made that disaster happen is being tapped to produce electricity..
‘Typically aeroelastic flutter is a destructive effect. But what the Windbelt does is try to capture it for the purposes of electricity production,’ explains Frayne, the brains behind the Windbelt and the founder of Humdinger Wind Energy.
The Windbelt’s key component is a taut membrane of mylar-coated taffeta, which vibrates as wind flows over it – this movement, triggered by airflow, is what is known as aeroelastic flutter (see the windbelt in action in the video below).
‘That oscillation moves a set of permanet magnets that are on the membrane itself at one of the ends,’ Frayne continues. The motion of these magnets between two copper coil induces an electrical current.
A version of it called the “windcell” measuring about a meter in length may be particularly suited for the developing world..
The Windcell, measuring a metre in length, is particularly suited to providing electricity in isolated areas of the developing world where solar or conventional wind power are too costly or simply inaccessible. Producing around 0.2 kWh (enough to power 10 energy saving lightbulbs), its energy output is not enormous, but it’s enough to make a real difference in some areas, replacing kerosene lighting in Haiti for example.
‘It makes sense for situations when you don’t need a whole lot of power and you’ve got some wind. You could have just a few Windcells that harvest enough energy from the wind to power up lighting or charge some batteries,’ says Frayne. ‘There’s a couple of governments that we’re talking to about rolling out the Windcell to dispersed communities.’