Tumbleweed Turbine Wins Dyson Foundation Award

Wind turbines are great when the wind flow is predictable. In urban environments, especially in cities with skyscrapers, wind patterns can be truly chaotic. What you need, then, is a wind turbine that works no matter which way the wind blows. And just such a turbine has won the global first prize James Dyson Award. Check out their video below the break.

The turbine design is really neat. It’s essentially a sphere with vents oriented so that it’s always going to rotate one way (say, clockwise) no matter where the wind hits it. The inventors say they were inspired by NASA’s Tumbleweed project, which started off as a brainstorming session and then went on to roll around Antarctica. We tumbled into this PDF, and this summary report, but would love more info if any of you out there know something about Tumbleweeds.

Back to the turbine, though. How efficient is it? How likely is it to scale? How will a 3D-printed version drive a junk-bin brushless motor on my balcony? The jury is still out. But if a significant portion of the wind comes from otherwise unusable directions, this thing could be a win. Who’s going to be the first to 3D print one?

via New Altas,  and thanks to [Qes]! Banner and thumbnail images courtesy O-Wind Turbine

26 thoughts on “Tumbleweed Turbine Wins Dyson Foundation Award

      1. Sorry. I meant “who of you out there reading this right now are going to be the first to 3D print one?” Of course, this invites the developers of the thing to say “we already printed one”, so yeah, I left myself hanging on that one.

        Anyway, my real point is that I’d like some better technical / efficiency specs, and I know we have a few turbine tweakers in the audience.

    1. Probably not, as this is vented.

      It seems that the advantage is the offset of the forces, allowing it to be easily attached by cantilevers, or to move around in the tumbleweed configuration.

      If you have a good fixed mount, you’d probably want a combined Darrieus-Savonius generator instead.

  1. Interesting how similar the design is to a common roof vent turbine. Put some manufacturing and assembly issues aside for a moment and I have to wonder the roof vent unit might be a bit more omnidirectionly driven, IF not for needing to control rain water ingress.

  2. I was initially confused about this design since it seemed like just another Vertical Axis Turbine, making it applicable to surface winds that gust in different directions (North, then West etc.). After I looked into it more I realized the idea was not to just capture changes in direction of horizontal winds but to also capture the forces in vertical winds (those going up and down) – so significantly different from conventional Vertical Axis Turbines. Definitely intriguing, I’d really like to see how they transfer the rotational energy to drive an axial flux generator (the prototypes they showed looked to be suspended by string, so not loaded with driving anything). Looks very promising and I am anxious to see what they develop next.

  3. I find it ironic that James Dyson should have an award for technical innovation.

    It is probably a guilt complex for taking an idea that had been used for years, patenting it and vigorously defending it in order to stop other people using it.

  4. So, the rotation is still around one axis. That must mean that for certain wind directions, the windforce can not be harvested as efficiently as for other wind directions. Now factor in that a generator will try to brake the turbine, when you connect a load, and I start wondering if it really is worth the trouble to try to harvest wind power from those lesser efficient wind directions.

    I think that the performance in real-life situations will turn out to not be much better than for a Savonius turbine.

    But a Savonius turbine can be made quite light for their size. Looking at this design, I wonder how it’s weight will increase when it’s size is increased. I see a lot of intricate ribs, and that must weigh some.

    1. > worth the trouble to try to harvest wind power from those lesser efficient wind directions.

      That would depend on the directional/speed characteristics of the wind at a location. And more so, on how chaotic.
      It’s not being the most efficient you can be for a given wind direction, but how much energy you can average in a day/week/month/year across the seasons at that location. The goal may not even be to maximize the yearly total energy. The goal may be maximizing the weekly average, or even the daily average, so you can scale to larger or more devices so you get more min-days (days producing the minimum daily energy target).

  5. pointless, will never generate enough energy to light a light bulb. Look at Adobe headquarters in San Jose spending 100K for some small wind turbines that dont even generate power and are all broken now.

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