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.

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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.

+ Humdinger