Within the next few months, we hope to start seeing more about an intriguing small-scale wind power technology that was first announced a few years ago. The Windbelt was devised as a wind power generator to meet the very modest power needs of families in third-world countries. The device is revolutionary for being non-revolving — most wind power is produced by something going around in a circle and turning on an axis to drive a generator. Windbelt, however, uses the oscillation of a thin strip of material held in tension with a spring to vibrate a magnet that generates electrical power.
In late 2007, Shawn Frayne’s Windbelt was cited as one of Popular Mechanics’ Breakthrough Awards winners. Frayne has gone on to found Humdinger Wind Energy LLC, a company to develop and license the windbelt technology.
Humdinger has been working on three scales of application for the Windbelt technology. At the smallest scale, the microWindbelt is only roughly 5 inches long and 1 inch tall and can provide power for sensors or small electronics. A larger Windbelt in a 1-meter long frame, called the Windcell, can provide 3 to 5 watts of power, enough for an LED light or other relatively low-power needs. Windcells can also be assembled into panels. A 1 meter square Windcell panel is anticipated to be able to produce up to 100 watts, and have a panel cost of around $1 per watt.
That might not go very far for the average American house, but it would provide a useful amount of power at a cost lower than solar panels. To be effective, windbelts need a moderate breeze around 6m/sec (13 mph), but generate some power even at lower wind speeds. The first planned demonstration of Windcell panels is expected to take place in a few months.
For urban installations, windbelts offer advantages that might make them particularly appealing. With no dangerously fast moving parts, windbelts offer a method for generating energy without endangering bats and birds. Windbelts may also be better suited to the varaible, gusty winds of an urban setting where rotating generators are less effective.