Sail-inspired wind turbine doubles efficiency without blades

We know that there's more than enough wind energy out there to power our entire civilization, but conventional wind turbines don't do that great of a job of harnessing it. They're expensive and inefficient, and we're looking for better technologies, one of which is a super efficient wind turbine that doesn't need blades.

It looks like some sort of flat satellite dish-thing, but this is Saphon Energy's wind non-turbine, the Saphonian. It doesn't have blades, and nothing on it spins: it just sits there, pointing into the wind, and captures energy. The design is based on sails, the kind that pull boats around, which are very efficient (and have been for thousands of years) at turning wind energy into usable mechanical energy.

Instead of harvesting wind energy with rotating blades, the Saphonian uses a sort of round sail held in a frame. As wind pushes on the sail, it oscillates in "a non-rotational back and forth motion," driving small pistons as it does so. The pistons are hooked up to a hydraulic system, which can either store energy via an accumulator, or convert it directly into electricity with a generator. There's no transmission, no gearbox, and the thing barely moves and is almost completely silent. At the same time, however, it's able to generate energy 2.3 times more efficiently than a traditional bladed turbine (harvesting up to 80% of available wind energy) while saving 45% or more on infrastructure cost. Not too shabby.

Saphon got a patent on this design earlier this year, and it's currently looking to partner up with a manufacturer for worldwide distribution. So far, we're not seeing any downsides here, except that abandoning the traditional bladed design means that we no longer have the option of reversing all of the world's wind turbines to slow the rotation of the Earth on special occasions like my birthday. Oh well.

Saphon, via SciDev

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