As a mechanical engineer, I love watching things move; which is why I have a natural affinity for wind power over solar PV. I don’t have anything against the Sun, it’s just that I like visual confirmation that energy is being produced (watching a wind turbine turning). It is for this reason that I was so excited when I first heard about Humdinger Wind Energy back in 2007.
Unlike most wind generating devices, which use a turbine blade to catch the wind and rotate a shaft, the Humdinger approach relies on a much cooler sounding phenomenon – aeroelastic flutter (flutter for short). Flutter is what helped to bring down the Tacoma Narrows bridge ( as seen above and in this awesome vintage clip ).
The Humdinger technology relies on a windbelt, which is basically a metal strap held at two points. Think of the blade of grass you held between your fingers as a kid and blew on to make whistle. At the end of the strap there is a copper wire loop and as the metal strap flutters in the wind the conductor creates electricity.
Recently I was fortunate enough to catch the creator of Humdinger, Shawn Frayne (whose efforts were highlighted on Triple Pundit back in March), for a phone interview as he sat in the airport terminal on his way to Hong Kong (one of Humdinger’s overseas offices and where their head R&D center will be located).
Over the past 18 months Shawn has explored and refined concepts to determine where Humdinger’s technology can best be applied. They have explored a micro unit that can be used to power LEDs or other small appliances. A medium unit that could power highway sensors or wifi routers, and a large unit that they are currently testing on a windy hill in Guatemala.
One of their biggest challenges so far has been figuring out the market for their innovative products. The best applications for the existing Humdinger technologies exist in poorer countries without a reliable electric infrastructure. And while the Windbelt was influenced by Shawn’s desire to create a cleaner way for Haitian villagers to light up the night, he made it clear that they are a for-profit business, which makes it harder to sell to countries who can’t afford new technologies.
It is for this reason that Shawn and Humdinger team are so excited about their new product and strategy for the company: Humdinger Windcell Panels.
The company redirected their focus in February of this year on the Windcell Panel. As Shawn says, the reason for the transition “is all dollars and cents.” Humdinger plans on licensing the technology to businesses who will assemble and sell the panels. Their plan is that by focusing on R&D efforts and letting licensees sell their product, they will be able to have a greater impact and get Humdinger technology into customer’s hands faster.
The new panel consist of 20 Windbelts in a 1 meter square panel. One of the reasons for the new design is that it looks similar to a Solar PV panel; which will help customers, investors, and installers understand the potential for this new product. When asked about some of the challenges he has faced in building the new technology Shawn said, “It is closer to making a musical instrument than making an electrical generator.” It is like building something for “the industrial world and building a guitar from scratch.”
Humdinger predicts they’ll have the first prototype up and running in about 12 months and plan on testing it first in Hong Kong. They predict that licensees will be able to sell the panels for about $1/Watt.
Shawn envisions the Wincell Panels underneath the Golden Gate bridge, or on any bridge, overhanging structure, or plain-old windy spot for that matter. He believes that the “Windbelt will let wind energy go places wind has never gone before” and says there is “no reason it (Windcell panel) can’t be a disruptive technology.”
For a future that will need all kinds of renewable generation technologies to help lower the impacts on our planet, I certainly hope Shawn is right. I hope Windcell Panels start popping up everywhere. Hearing the Windbelts flutter on this renewable energy instrument will be music to my ears.