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Meet the anti-turbine: new wind energy concept will use the physics of thunderstorms to harvest electrons from water droplets in offshore wind farms.

Clean Power

“Entirely New Option For Low Cost Offshore Wind” Got $4.5 Million From ARPA-E

Meet the anti-turbine: new wind energy concept will use the physics of thunderstorms to harvest electrons from water droplets in offshore wind farms.

Last fall, an offshore wind energy startup called Accio Energy won $4.5 million in funding from ARPA-E, the US Energy Department’s transformational energy accelerator. That’s a huge chunk of change and the funding announcement did say that Accio’s technology offers “an entirely new option for low cost offshore wind,” but somehow the news seems to have skipped almost entirely under the radar.

Or not, as the case may be. Accio popped up in the news again last week and now it seems that the Michigan-based company’s rather unique approach to wind energy will nail down some more attention.

wind energy clean power

Low Cost Wind Energy From The Electrohydrodynamic Effect

The Accio wind energy technology is based on the electrohydrodynamic (EHD) effect, in which wind energy is deployed to separate positively charged water droplets from an ultra-fine mist. The result is a high voltage DC source that can be scaled up to utility size.

By constantly adjusting the number of droplets and the charge on the droplets relative to wind speed, the Accio wind energy harvester can operate consistently at peak efficiency.

In other words, if you’re looking for something that looks like a wind turbine, look elsewhere. Accio’s EHD wind energy harvester consists of arrays of tubes enclosed within flat, wind-permeable panels.

According to Accio, once the technology is commercialized it will deliver offshore wind energy on a cost-competitive basis with natural gas, even without subsidies.

One main price-cutting feature of the technology is its simple design, which lends itself to existing “heritage” manufacturing:

Accio Energy wind systems will be much cheaper to manufacture because of their modular, panelized design, with a similar energy density, size and form factor as solar panels. Accio systems, composed of common materials, can be manufactured using automotive manufacturing technologies and cost structure.

Relatedly, the simplicity of the design will enable high-volume production. According to Accio, daily production for a factory comparable in size to an auto factory would top 4,000 panels, each about the height and length of a shipping container and rated at 2.5 to 3.0 kW.

The modular design also enables ease of transportation using existing infrastructure. That’s a big cost savings compared to the complex task of transporting gigantic offshore turbine parts from the manufacturing site to their final destination.

This all sounds pretty rudimentary, but when you dig into the details, you can see the cutting edge technology at work. Accio also received a National Science Foundation award to develop its wind energy harvester, and the agency had this to say:

The opportunity exists to apply recently developed efficient droplet generation means, such as advanced electrospray and MEMS-based microfabrication of electrospray nozzles, as well as real-time system controls, to craft a system with significantly positive net energy balance.

Wind Energy In The News

Accio Energy is looking to slice the cost of offshore wind energy in half, which may sound like a magic trick. However, in an interview last week with Midwestern Energy News, Accio CEO (and Harry Potter fan) Jennifer Baird described the system in more earthly terms, as a sort of manufactured thunderstorm. The array of tubes is used to create a mist similar to a cloud, and the wind pushes the “cold” droplets away, leaving electrons behind.

According to Baird, the EHD wind energy panels have been demonstrated at lab scale to support the company’s cost projections. The ARPA-E funding will enable Accio to scale it up to the point where it can set up an offshore test (the technology could be used just about anywhere, but for now the company is focusing on the offshore market).

Partnering in the project is the University of Maine, which is known for its wind energy research program.

EHD is still a long way off from commercialization, but meanwhile the US is finally getting its act together on offshore wind energy using relatively conventional offshore turbines, and it looks like tiny Rhode Island will be first out of the box.

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Image (screenshot): via Accio Energy.

 
 
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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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