Apple may be the world’s valuable company and brand, but to sustainability and corporate social responsibility advocates, the company is often a pariah. A patent application the company filed last year, first revealed on the Apple Insider blog, shows that some of that cash on which Apple is sitting could be invested in a new clean energy technology.
Filed last year, the application describes a set of rotating blades that converts rotational energy from a wind turbine into heat that is then stored in a vessel containing “low heat capacity fluid.” The system would then selectively transfer the heat as needed from that low heat capacity fluid to a “working fluid” and hence would generate electricity. Heat, not rotational energy, would would be the result of the turbine’s blades rotating; and even more exciting, energy could be used when needed, as when there is little or no wind.
The bugaboo of conventional wind power turbines is the inconsistent amount of energy generated due to the fluctuations in the speed of wind. There is not often enough wind during peak demand, and conversely turbines could produce excessive amounts of energy during periods of low demand. Plus the pesky issue of energy storage hinders the ability of wind power to contribute effectively to local grid systems. So according to the lead author of the patent application, Jean Lee, “what is needed is a mechanism for mitigating variability and/or intermittency associated with the production of electricity from wind energy.”
One key component that would allow this technology to work is the friction between the rotor blades and that low heat capacity fluid. That fluid could be ethanol, nitrogen, an inert gas or mercury. In turn that insulated vessel-containing fluid could both obtain and store energy from the wind turbine and generate energy when wind is lacking. During such times a conductive rod or radiator would boil that fluid and the resulting steam would rotate another turbine connected to a generator.
Why would Apple pursue this? As is the case with many technology companies, much of the company’s carbon footprint lies in their data centers that are always ravenous for energy. As Fast Company’s Ariel Schwartz points out, Apple’s business will rely more and more on cloud technologies such as iTunes and of course, iCloud. So as Apple dabbles in clean energy, it would only make sense they develop their own–proprietary, no doubt–technology.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
Image courtesy U.S. Patent Office