For Young Thinkers, the Winds of Change are Picking Up

pinwheels.jpgAt Power Shift ’09 this weekend, 12,000 young activists converged in Washington, DC, for green-minded revelry and impassioned rabble-rousing. It was capped on Monday by an snowy protest at a DC coal-fired power plant, where protestors donning green hard hats chanted “no more coal” and prepared for arrest by blocking the plant’s entrance (as of press time, no arrests have been reported).
Clearly, Obama’s youth base hasn’t lost its political energy, nor its desire for change. In fact, both seem to be gaining momentum. Meanwhile, it seems as though there’s also a shift afoot in the focus of our brightest, youngest minds. There are fewer stories about new social media platforms started by wunderkinds in their dorm rooms and more about young scientists developing promising new forms of alternative energy systems.
Here’s one good example: Shawn Frayne. He went from studying physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to helping convert agricultural waste into fuel in Haiti, to founding his own company to develop and sell cheap wind-based energy. And he’s not even 30 yet.

His company, Humdinger, is generating wind energy without turbines. Instead, it uses a “windbelt,” which is a band of material that, when in the path of wind, vibrates. Those vibrations are converted to electricity. It’s cheap and easy to scale down, which can’t be said about traditional wind turbines. And this also makes it useful for generating power in poor and remote regions where erecting turbines isn’t practical.
In fact, the windbelt can be scaled down in size enough to be used in lieu of a battery to power things such as sensors – and this is where the technology might really shine.
Frayne and his Humdinger cohorts are carrying out experiments with their windbelts everywhere from Hawaii to Ecuador to Hong Kong. Frayne was also a finalist for the 2008 Curry Stone Design Prize, which recognizes designers who create means of improving lives and the state of the world, and harness their ingenuity and craft for social good.
Frayne is also part of a growing field of researchers who are focused on alternatives to conventional wind power. We recently wrote about PacWind’s innovative take on windmills. And then there’s Magenn, which is making a kind of kite-cum-turbine that could provide energy generation in remote areas not linked to an electrical grid – thereby replacing diesel generators.
Google-funded Makani is also working to harness high-altitude wind energy, but the startup has been very hush-hush about its approach. This Emeryville, Calif., startup is also led by young bright minds…of people who really like to kitesurf. This should, at least, keep them from getting overworked.
(Photo by Dan Barak.)

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to

3 responses

  1. Very interesting topic. I will check out more on windbelts. By the way during the campaign Obama told us he supported “Clean coal” which uses coal for electricity but tries to reduce environmental impact, including capture and storage of CO2 emissions. Like all new ideas we have a ways to go to make them workable. But it sounds like Power Shift and others are working towards that goal

  2. I like the thought that the youth are doing things to make a change especially good change that can help the environment and the economy. They’re acting way beyond their years, and that is so not a good comparison to their elders in office who just bicker and do nothing for change at all.

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