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Published on September 24th, 2012 | by Tina Casey


Air Force Vet Converts Silos to Low-Cost Wind Turbines for Small Farms

September 24th, 2012 by  

A U.S. Air Force veteran from Arkansas has won a chunk of funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a new venture called Agri Wind Turbines, to develop a low-cost wind turbine that uses compressed air funneled from existing or new silos. The idea is to provide small- and medium-sized farms with access to affordable wind power, especially in regions where “free-range” wind conditions are not ideal for conventional wind turbines.

silos could be used for vertical wind turbines

Small Farms, Big Wind Power

Insulating small and mid-sized farms from potentially devastating energy price spikes is a significant challenge for the U.S. agriculture sector. Agri Wind Turbines founder and president Jeff Brown says that his idea for wind power for small farms could work out financially for independent farmers working on thin margins, since they could use their existing infrastructure and grid connection to support a modest wind energy investment.

He anticipates that a vertical axis wind turbine design would provide enough energy for most of a typical small or mid-sized farm’s electricity needs. The grid connection would come into play in cases where the turbine generates excess energy, which the farmer could sell back to the local utility.

If the technology works out, the silo-based wind energy investment could become part of the sustainable farming toolkit. It would work out especially well for farmers who are taking advantage of President Obama’s Rural Energy for America program, which has been providing millions in grants and loans for energy-efficient grain dryers, solar power installations, and other improvements.

Another rural energy program that could come into play is AgStar, under which the Obama Administration has been encouraging livestock farmers to install energy-saving manure-to-biogas equipment.

Yep, We Built This!

It’s also worth noting that Mr. Brown’s endeavor has all the markings of a small, innovative business rooted in personal inspiration, hard work and willingness to take risks, along with the resourcefulness to take advantage of the available support network, aka publicly funded programs.

That includes participating in the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) Federal and State Technology mentoring program, and winning a Technology Transfer Assistance Grant from the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority in 2011.

The Technology Transfer grant has gone to support Brown’s market research, and the USDA grant of $100,000 is being used to test the feasibility of the technology through computer modeling.

For Brown, the rewards of success will not only be a benefit to him. He’ll also be able to realize a personal goal of helping more of his fellow state residents build careers in Arkansas, both in agriculture and in the wind power sector.

That sounds like something presidential candidate Mitt Romney might want to consider if he ever wonders whether reformulating his position on wind power might be a good idea.

As Brown explained in a recent article for ASBTDC:

“Arkansas is the number one manufacturer of wind turbines in the U.S. There are really smart people in Arkansas that do not want to live anywhere else. Arkansas is home.”

Image (cropped): Silos. Some rights reserved by dok1.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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