Wind turbines are a fantastic, cheap, renewable source of energy. However, nothing lasts forever, and over time, the blades of wind turbines fatigue and must be replaced. This then raises the question of what to do with these giant waste blades. Thankfully, a variety of projects are exploring just those possibilities.
A Difficult Recycling Problem
Around 85% of a modern wind turbine is recyclable. The problem is that wind turbine blades currently aren’t. The blades last around 20 to 25 years, and are typically made of fiberglass or carbon fiber. Consisting of high-strength fibers set in a resin matrix, these composite materials are incredibly difficult to recycle, as we’ve discussed previously. Unlike metals or plastics, they can’t just be melted down to be recast as fresh material. Couple this with the fact that wind turbine blades are huge, often spanning up to 300 feet long, and the problem gets harder. They’re difficult and expensive to transport and tough to chop up as well.
After seeing [Veritasium]’s video on Blackbird, [Professor Kusenko] contacted him and said the performance claims and explanation were incorrect. After a bit of debate [Veritasium] proposed a wager on the matter, which [Professor Kusenko] accepted, and it was made official with a written agreement witnessed by [Neil deGrasse Tyson], [Bill Nye], and [Sean Carrol]. From the start, it was agreed that the entire debate would be made public.
[Professor Kusenko] made a very thorough and convincing argument, backed by calculations, against the claims in the video. He claimed the observations were due to a combination of gusty winds, a vertical wind gradient. He was convinced and that the vehicle would not be able to maintain a speed higher than the wind, directly downwind. By [Veritasium]’s own admittance, his original video could have contained more details and proof of performance claims of the Blackbird vehicle. He added these to the latest video and included two model demonstrations. The model that brought the concept home for us is at 13:46 in the video, and substitutes the propeller for a large wheel being driven by a piece of lumber being bushed across it. The second model, built by [Xyla Foxlin] was designed to demonstrate the concept on a treadmill. The 4th version of [Xyla]’s model was the first to be successful after she found out from [Rick Cavallaro] that the key design detail is the Vehicle Speed Ratio, which must be 0.7 or less. It is the pitch of the propeller divided by the circumference of the driven wheel, assuming a 1:1 gear ratio. All the 3D files and details are available if you want to build your own downwind cart. Continue reading “$10 000 Physics Wager Settles The Debate On Sailing Downwind Faster Than The Wind”→
If you search the outer reaches of the internet you will find all sorts of web sites and videos purporting to answer to free energy in the form of perpetual motion machines and other fantastical structures that bend the laws of physics to breaking point. We’d love them to be true but we have [Émilie du Châtelet] and her law of conservation of energy to thank for dashing those hopes. So when along comes a machine that appears to violate a fundamental Law of Physics, it’s reasonably met with skepticism. But the wind-powered vehicle built by [Rick Cavallaro] looks as though it might just achieve that which was previously thought impossible. It’s a machine that can move with the wind at a speed faster than the wind itself.
A fundamental law of sailing boats is that when they are sailing with the wind, i.e. in the same direction as the wind, they can’t sail faster than the wind itself. Sailing boats can go faster than the wind powering them by sailing across it at an angle to create lift from their sails, but this effect doesn’t work as the angle tends towards that of the wind.
The vehicle in the video below the break is a sleek and lightweight machine with a large propeller above it, which we are told is not the windmill power source we might imagine it to be. Instead it mimics the effect of a pair of sailing boats sailing across the wind in a spiral around a long cylinder, and thus becomes in effect a fan when turned by the motoin in the craft’s wheels. The drive comes from the wind working on the craft itself, and thus as can be seen from the motion of a streamer on its front, it can overtake the wind. It seems too good to be true at first sight but the explanation holds water. Now we want a ride too!
Sometimes there’s a satisfaction to be found not in the more complex projects but the simplest ones. We’ve featured wind turbines of all types here at Hackaday over the years, but HowToLou’s one is probably one of the least sophisticated. That notwithstanding, it does its job admirably, and provides a handy reminder of a parts source many of us might have overlooked.
At its heart is a motor from an exercise treadmill, which appears to be quite a powerful DC motor so that’s a source worth noting away for any future projects. To that he attaches the blades from a desk fan, and when placed outdoors on a windy day it generates enough power to run an LED head torch and charge his phone.
Of course, this most basic of wind turbines is not displaying its true potential in the video below the break. Were it mounted in a high position free from ground based wind obstacles it would no doubt catch a lot more wind, and in particular were it hooked up to a charge controller and a battery it could provide a much more useful power source. Then you could start optimizing fan blade designs… But this is a fun project that isn’t trying to masquerade as anything sophisticated, and it still has that potential.
It’s really beginning to feel as though the problem of climate change is a huge boulder rolling down a steep hill, and we have the Sisyphean task of trying to reverse it. While we definitely need to switch as much of the planet over to clean, green energy as soon as possible, the deployment should be strategic. You know, solar panels in sunny places, and wind turbines in windy places. And for the most part, we’re already doing that.
In the meantime, there are also natural disasters to deal with, some of which are worsened by climate change. Eastern and Southeast Asian countries are frequently under the threat of typhoons that bring strong, turbulent winds with them. Once the storms pass, they leave large swaths of lengthy power outages in their wake.
Studies have shown that these storms are gaining strength over the years, leading to more frequent disruption of existing power systems in those areas. Wind power is the ideal solution where storms have come through and knocked out traditional power delivery all over a region. As long as the turbines themselves can stand up to the challenge, they can be used to power micro-grids when other delivery is knocked out.
Bring On the Typhoons?
Unfortunately, the conventional three-bladed wind turbines you see dotting the plains can’t stand up to the awesome power of typhoons. But vertical axis wind turbines can. Though they have been around for many years, they may have finally found their niche.
There appears to be no shortage of reasons to hate on wind farms. That’s especially the case if you live close by one, and as studies have shown, their general acceptance indeed grows with their distance. Whatever your favorite flavor of renewable energy might be, that’s at least something it has in common with nuclear or fossil power plants: not in my back yard. The difference is of course that it requires a lot more wind turbines to achieve the same output, therefore affecting a lot more back yards in total — in constantly increasing numbers globally.
Personally, as someone who encounters them occasionally from the distance, I find wind turbines mostly to be an eyesore, particularly in scenic mountainous landscapes. They can add a futuristic vibe to some otherwise boring flatlands. In other words, I can not judge the claims actual residents have on their impact on humans or the environment. So let’s leave opinions and emotions out of it and look at the facts and tech of one issue in particular: light pollution.
This might not be the first issue that comes to mind when thinking about wind farms. But wind turbines are tall enough to require warning lights for air traffic safety, and can be seen for miles, blinking away in the night sky. From a pure efficiency standpoint, this doesn’t seem reasonable, considering how often an aircraft is actually passing by on average. Most of the time, those lights simply blink for nothing, lighting up the countryside. Can we change this?
As the global climate emergency continues to loom over human civilization, feverish work is underway around the world to find technical and political solutions to the problem. Much has been gained in recent years, but as global emissions continue to increase, there remains much left to do to stave off the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
Renewable energy has led the charge, allowing humanity to continue to enjoy the wonders of electricity with a reduced environmental impact. The future looks promising, with renewable sources becoming cheaper than traditional fossil fuel energy plants in many cases, both in the USand abroad. At the same time, the rise of renewable technologies has brought new and varied challenges to the fore, which must be dealt with in kind. Take wind energy, for instance. Continue reading “What Will We Do With The Turbine Blades?”→