Wind power conjures up images of giant turbines spinning gracefully out somewhere in the cornfields, but one day it could be as close as those wind chimes hanging from your porch. An undergraduate research group at Cornell University is developing a compact low-cost device for converting wind into electricity. Instead of blades turning on a rotor, it consists of a rack of flat panels that capture the vibrations from wind.
Wind Power Goes Domestic
Actually, for a growing number of people, wind power conjures up images of small-scale wind turbines in their own backyard or rooftop – that is, if the neighbors don’t object. If they do, the Cornell project offers some aesthetic flexibility that could offer an alternative solution. It could also enable more urban homeowners to squeeze wind power into tight spaces such as apartment balconies.
Clean Energy from Vibrations
The Cornell project is based on an effect called piezoelectricity, in which a charge is generated by certain crystalline structures that are subjected to stress. With the right materials, you can generate a piezolectric charge from a wide variety of surfaces that vibrate or experience traffic, including highways, dance floors, machinery – and wind. As an alternative, the team is also exploring the use of electromagnetic coils.
Harvesting the Wind
The Cornell Vibro-Wind Research Group is dedicated to making wind power more accessible, so it is concentrating on a device that costs less, takes up less space, and generates electricity from even tiny breezes. The group also includes an architecture team that is working on integrating the device into building elements. If the concept proves cost-effective, the prototype’s bare-bones rack of oscillating foam blocks could be replaced by far more attractive materials. In that case, it has the potential to become as common as wind chimes – but without the noise.
Image: Wind chimes by Dr. Starbuck on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.