28-years-old MIT graduate Shawn Frayne is the CEO and founder of Humdinger Wind Energy LLC. Frayne is the inventor of Humdinger’s core technology – the WindBelt, a wind-based energy generator that generates power in a completely different way from its predecessors. The idea for the Windbelt was conceived on 2004, when Frayne visited a village in Haiti that was not connected to an electrical grid. Frayne thought that white LEDs powered by an inexpensive micro-scale wind-based energy generator may be an effective replacement for the poor villagers’ kerosene lamps.
While trying to design a conventional turbine-based generator, Frayne realized that turbine technology is too inefficient and too costly at this small scale. The inspiration for his “aeroelastic flutter”-based invention came from the story of the 1940 Tacoma Bridge collapse, which demonstrated the great power of the wind. The collapse proved that although wind can rotate big turbines, it can also cause strips of material to flutter, be it a long metal bridge or a taut plastic ribbon.
Frayne’s early prototype was based on a thin taut strip of plastic ribbon, about 2 feet long, fixed inside a rectangular frame. A small magnet was attached to each side of the ribbon, close to its ends. While the ribbon fluttered in the wind, each of the two magnets oscillated between two metal coils, creating an electric charge. The device generated an alternating current, which was conditioned from a low AC to a boosted DC in the range of 4-5 volts by some very simple and inexpensive components. Using only a 10 Mph wind generated by a small fan, the prototype managed to produce about 40 milliwatts of electricity- Mph enough to light 2 white LEDs. According to Frayne, his prototypical windbelt device was 10 to 30 times more efficient than the best micro-turbine that existed at the time.
Although the Windbelt technology has been successful in lab experiments and in small scale applications, several critics of this technology claim the numbers are still quite disappointing and that larger scale devices are expected to fail and collapse, just like the Tacoma bridge that inspired Frayne. Frayne says that presently, the WindBelt device produces a fairly constant energy output at wind speeds between 4-15 Mph. At higher wind speeds the increase in energy output is not significant in proportion to the increase in wind speed. Frayne also admits the Windbelt would probably not endure winds above 50 Mph.
The Windbelt will not be replacing wind turbine farms in the near future. It is evident that wind-turbines power generation technologies are constantly progressing and improving. Two innovations that demonstrate recent progress in this field are the British company QuietRevolution’s Helical Wind Turbine (covered by TFOT in January 2007) and the Canadian company Magenn’s Air Rotor System (covered by TFOT in March 2007). In addition, plans for offshore mega-turbine farms have been approved in the UK (covered by TFOT in December 2006).
In the meantime, Shawn Frayne’s Humdinger Wind Company keeps its focus on the micro-power markets, experimenting with larger and more powerful Windbelts. For inventing the Windbelt, Shawn Frayne was elected as one of the California Clean Tech Open finalists, received a Popular Mechanic Breakthrough Award, and was invited to speak at several important conferences. All the evidence suggests that if Humdinger Wind solve some technical issues and refine their product nothing will stop Windbelt from becoming incredibly popular in the market.
Further discussion of wind-based
energy generation can be found in the TFOT forums.