Make a Wind Turbine from 55 Gallon Drums

vertical axis wind turbine

Although there are several vertical axis wind turbines listed on greenterrafirma’s page, the one built with 55 gallon drums was especially interesting to us.  Although the spouse approval factor of any of these designs is debatable, at $100, the 55 gallon drum design could provide a very good return on investment.  The tools required to make one of these are relatively simple, so this could make this experiment accessible to those without a vast arsenal of equipment.

If large blue barrels aren’t your thing, the post also features several other turbine designs, including one made with wood and aluminium foil, and one constructed out of PVC pipe.  The video after the break does a good job of explaining the “blue barrel” construction process, but if you’d rather just see this [VAWT] in action, fast forward to 5:25.


If wind turbines aren’t your thing at all, why not instead build a heat exchanger to harvest the waste heat that your appliances give off anyway?

32 thoughts on “Make a Wind Turbine from 55 Gallon Drums

    1. I was so excited to see these plans. My older quilter friend Flo made this years ago in Vt using Mother Earths plans – she also built her three story house, including sweating all copper pipes, etc. She said it worked like a charm as the house was on the side of a mountain in S. Vt and sold back power to the local utilities- anyway, she looked and looked and even called Mother Earth- to no avail- for the plans to give to me She died last spring- good old Flo would be very happy to know that I now have some plans- she did however mention that she changed the plans so that the barrels would not “spin ” off under high winds and injure anything- dont’ know what that was but my engineer soninlaw will figure that out- anyway this thing did just fine for her 2000 sq ft house- thankyou carol

  1. It’s really loud! Those bearings are not made for this, they’re going to wear out quick. Also the barrels seem to just be squeezed onto the PVC pipe? The main invention seems to be cutting the barrels which is neat on its own, and it’s all nice and low tech, but it needs some slightly better components to last long enough I reckon.

    1. I completely agree. While it’s a cool proof of concept, he needs some real bearings and some real gears and a real generator to make some useful power.

      1. What would you recommend as a real bearing? I always have trouble thinking of where to source a bearing like that. Obviously you need one that is greased (and probably is closed to keep dust/weather out).

        1. You might be able to rip some bearings from a car in a junkyard. You’d have to clean and repack them, but that’s relatively trivial.

          If you don’t/can’t do that yourself, ask a few mechanics in your area how much they might ask for to do so.

      2. You could get a bearing head and/or bearing rebuild kit for a trailer axle and use that. It’s already made for that kind of pressure and high RPMs. Maybe pack it with a little lighter grease since it won’t be seeing freeway speeds or weight load.

  2. I lived in a city that didn’t allow its residents to build windmills. What is keeping the drum from flying off and hitting someone?

    1. This is a very old idea that people have been doing for decades. Yes decades. Mother earth news instructed how to do this with a car alternator to make electricity back in the late 70′s

    1. Or the noise should be enough to scare people away ….

      JK JK

      I saw this years ago and thought it was a great idea. I even saw one that was more then 5 barrels stacked and cut in this fashion. Only suggestion would be to build more.

  3. id have forgone the lazy susans and went with a pair of bicycle wheels from a dead bike, would have been more quiet and less friction, capable of holding more weight, and the back wheel would a had a sprocket you could drive the generator.

    but using a drum like that is a good idea, those wash up on the beach here all the time. so i could build one of these for free.

    1. where do you live that 55 gallon drums wash up on the beach? i would be a bit more concerned about where the drums come from than trying to save money on a wind generator.

      1. I’d imagine somewhere near shipping routes in areas prone to rough seas. A surprising amount of cargo is lost overboard every year. I think there is a beach in Denmark somewhere where lego bricks regularly wash ashore from a shipping container (or possibly more than one, can’t remember now) that fell overboard.

      2. yea im in southeast alaska. lots of shipping through here, but i think most of this is stuff that gets knocked off of fishing boats in rough seas.

  4. In the second video the pooch acted like damn this noisy thing is going to affect my nap time quality. Any critter small enough to take a nap inside migh be in for ride. I have always thought if I experimented with a VAWT I would use a front spindle off a car or truck. Tough enough to last a while, and quite if the bearings are good. I’d go with the Hugh Piggott shop built alternator. design as well. Anyway for very little money this guy is getting a clue how much power he can expect from a VAWT at his location.

  5. Aha, he is using one of those crappy DT830 multimeters. It was my first multimeter and it sucked monkey balls in precision. I don’t use it for ages but should still work…

    Regarding the setup, judging from the noise, the gears don’t seem to fit very well.. He is wasting a little power there. Also, he should have done some gearing ratio measurements to calculate the most efficient ratio for his generator.

    But still, its a very nice proof of concept which serves the purpose.

    1. lol wasting a little power – he is wasting a crapload of power

      ohh and while I personally find those vertical axis windmills cool and all they suck when compared with a typical horizontal millmills…

      horizonatal axis windmills can achieve much higher RPM than a savonoius – and that equalls higher voltage and more power from a generator

    2. “Proof of concept”? This concept of generating electricity has been the subject of so much dis-proof since the Hippy 60′s it’s not funny.

      This type of windmill (it’s really stretching a point to call it a “turbine”) is a Savonious rotor.

      The up side is that they are easy to understand, easy and cheap to build, and low stress in operation (they don’t go fast enough to fly apart).

      Like all vertical axis mills they have the advantage that it is easy to get their output down to ground level making the driven machinery much easier to maintain, and they catch gusts from all directions without having to align into them (and the gyroscopic pitching forces that produces).

      The down side of the Savonious is that they are godawful inefficient (i.e. less than 10% of the available power in the swept area); they do not develop significant lift and are thus quite low speed machines with a high solidarity meaning they blow over rather than spinning themselves to destruction.

      The low speed of operation (tip speed ratio of about 1:1 compared to an aerodynamically bladed mill with a tip speed ratio of about 6:1) means they require high gearing to spin any sort of reasonable electrical machine, so (with the exception of using a large multi-pole stepper motor out of a washing machine) pretty well useless for electricity generation.

      Using belts such as V-ropes to gear them up normally means most of the energy is wasted in heating the belts because of their high friction.

      The Savonious rotor is however very well suited to direct connection to a positive displacement water pump.

      I’ve seen the wreckage of dozens of these including one that was 15 ft high by 30ft across, built like a battle tank, yet still wrecked in the first windstorm.

      There are very good reasons why no commercial windfarms use them but go for aerodynamic mills with low solidarity and a high tip speed ratio – harder to build, but produce useful amounts of power, and survive gusts much better. Using a lift section blade is the key to getting real power out of the wind, whatever the axis (e.g. Darrieus).

  6. You can get cheap bearings from agricultural workshops, i know, its a shame, but we often throw away perfectly good bearings, just because they are replaced as a part of a refurbishment.

  7. That’s pretty cool, but it would be really cool to find a way to power the alternator like a motor and watch those barrels really move!

  8. You can get those barrels for free. Try a large new car dealer that has its own detail department. Some of them purchase cleaning supplies in those 55 gallon barrels. Just ask for the empties, I’d say most won’t care and might even help rinse it out. Heads up, any person at a car dealer ship who does physical labor…. a soda and candy bar can go a long way.

  9. in Springfield, il a local metal yard has a stack of 35 gallon plastics (blue and white) for 4$ a piece. They are all out of 55 gallon jobs usually.

  10. My brother-in-law built some similar windmills out of metal 55 gallon drums years ago. He built an underground house and has 12v and 120v switches for lights in every room.

    He lives in Utah in a high wind area. When the barrels spin, the wind is loud anyway. He uses belts attached to the drums to turn alternators.

    An old man saw his windmills one day and stopped and GAVE him a bunch of expensive lead-acid batteries for his system :)

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