As the United States makes a bigger push toward clean energy, fields of wind turbines dotting hillsides and pastures are becoming an increasingly familiar sight. But rarely do you see them in an urban environment. Shawn Frayne wants to change that, in hopes of harnessing energy on wind-rich bridges, skyscrapers, and underpasses.
"Wind technology can't go that many places right now, particularly in cities, which are well-mapped from a wind perspective," Frayne says.
Frayne's company has designed the Windbelt, a turbine alternative that looks somewhat like a conveyor belt. The Windbelt collects wind energy using a phenomenon known as aeroelastic flutter, which allows it to harvest energy at scales and costs that turbines can't compete with. Whereas a traditional windmill generates power through the motion of its blades, the Windbelt captures smaller vibrations caused by the wind.
"Our belief is that the future of power is going to be more distributed" and will come from a greater number of smaller sources, Frayne says. "Not meaning that there's going to be a wind turbine on every home, but inputs of 10 kilowatts here, 100 kilowatts there, all throughout cities."
The company was founded in Honolulu because of some enticing tax credits for start-ups, but Frayne opened the Hong Kong office because of the massive potential market in China, which boasts less red tape. "It can probably move a lot more quickly in the Chinese market than it could into a U.S. market," Frayne says.
Though Frayne's business model relies on licensing his clean tech innovation to the United States, China, and other large nations, the Windbelt was conceived with the developing world in mind, and the goal to "make wind power 10 times cheaper in future than it is today."
The newest incarnation of Humdinger's Windbelts is the Windcell panel, which is composed of 20 meter-long Windbelts in a one-meter frame, can match the price of coal and produce 100 watts.
That might not sound like a lot of energy, and Frayne admits that one of the biggest challenges has been "convincing people that tiny slivers of wind harvesting will be able to be ganged up a millionfold under a bridge to produce macro-scale power."
"Everything about it is new," Frayne says. "The old constraints don't apply."