The American Wind Powered Car

Robert Yost of American Wind was one of the guest speakers at the Sustainable Energy themed Sip & Hatch back in June. Even in just the five minutes he had to describe what his technology does you could “get it”, but what’s not to get?!

 

Granted I’m not a physics major or an engineer, so I’m sure I don’t get it all, but I could still understand the basic premise.

 

Back in 2011 when North Alabama was ravaged by tornadoes and we all spent upwards of a week without power, Yost’s wife sat watching the blades on a fan turn from nothing more than the power of the breeze. “Why can’t we harness that power?” she asked her engineer husband, and his response was greater than she ever expected. He set out to make it happen.

 

The wind turbine that Yost has designed is a fraction of the size of the smallest wind turbines currently on the market, yet it creates more energy. Because of the reduced size it can be used in many more functions and it is safer than a standard wind turbine, with no risk to birds. The reduced size alone creates a number of new opportunities for travel, camping, and military use.

 

The wind turbine that Yost has designed doesn’t look much like the typical windmills or wind turbines. In fact, it looks much more like a jet engine turbine, and that’s because that’s what the design is patterned after. Working similar to an airplane wing or jet turbine, the wind on the backside of the turbine is moving at a much faster speed than the wind on the front side. This pushes the turbine to spin at a faster rate and keeps it spinning.
Some of the current opportunities that Yost is exploring include:

Using the wind to power a car – Yost has plans to use four of his small turbines on top of his hybrid car, increasing the power to the battery and decreasing the time between needed gas refueling or electric charges. Later in the fall he expects to begin a cross-country tour with his car, but before then he may break the World Record for the longest drive without needing to stop for fuel or recharge.

 

Don’t be misled, the car will still be a hybrid. It isn’t a perpetual motion machine. But the MPGs on this hybrid will exceed anything seen on a current gas/electric hybrid, creating a car that will rarely need refueling. Yost says that for the car to be completely wind-powered batteries would need to become super-efficient in comparison to those that currently exist. Wind can’t cover 100% of power needs of a car, especially when the car is sitting in traffic and not moving. Therefore, a hybrid is necessary.

 

American Wind - Wind-powered car
Wind-powered energy for travel needs – Yost has created a stand-alone version of his wind turbine that can be used for travel needs such as camping and hiking. This turbine can be put on a stand or hung from a tree where it will spin in the wind collecting energy to power small appliances while hiking and camping. This version may also have applications for military and other uses. Eventually, a number of these turbines could even be used to power an entire building.

 

Wind turbines for the military – Speaking of military use. The military currently sends out wind turbine kits to their people in the field along with lightweight foldable solar panels. The problem is that the current wind turbines are very large often creating a target for the opposing military to aim at. The turbines from American Wind are a fraction of the size and could replace the existing wind turbines providing power and increased safety for our military.

 

Wind to offset HVAC power – Yost is in talks with HVAC manufacturers to add his small turbines to the top of HVAC units. These turbines would work off the output from the HVAC unit itself (that air that is blown out of the top and sides of the units) creating power to offset the high cost of heating and cooling a home.

 

The potential uses for micro-wind turbines are endless, from wind turbine fields, to offsetting power, to combined uses with other energy sources for homes, hotels, and vehicles, as well as camping and military. Yost has already received one patent for his creation and is waiting on a second one. I imagine that will not be the last one he receives, just as I’m sure that the applications he’s already considered will not be the end of the many uses for his design.

 

Robert Yost reminds us that wind is not the end-all power source. He says that wind and sun, and wind and other power sources work in unison. We have the greatest efficiency when we combine multiple sources. In the case of a car it may be wind and gas, in the case of homes it may be wind and sun.

 

Of course there are detractors, there are those who say “but won’t it create a wind wall?” or “How can a wind turbine push a car against the wind faster than the wind is blowing?” To those Robert points out that it’s already been proven. You can read about it here. He points out that it’s about more than just one simple physics equation, it is multiple equations and it’s about approaching one thing from multiple angles.

 

Can American Wind break physics
In his lab I saw where Yost and his staff are testing whether they can “break physics.” They currently have a small USB fan propelling one their turbines. Within the next few weeks they plan to plug the USB fan directly into the turbine to see if they can power the fan with power from the turbine that the fan is creating power for. Wrap your head around that! They are skeptical that it will work, but looking forward to find out. I don’t know about you but I’m excited to see if it works! Will this be the next big thing? I don’t know but it sure is interesting to watch!

Educating Teachers about Sustainable Energy

One of the key focus areas of Energy Alabama is education. In order to reach our goal of “net zero energy”, our first step must be in educating people about what sustainable energy is and how it can be used to help us reach “net zero” in Huntsville. This means education both for adults and for our children. However, in order to educate children, we have to start with educating teachers about sustainable energy.

presenting at the North Alabama Technology Conference

Last month Energy Alabama had the opportunity to attend the North Alabama Technology Conference (NATC). This is a conference that provides teachers with the opportunity to learn about new technology and how they can incorporate technology into the classroom. NATC was a great opportunity for Energy Alabama to unveil our new lesson plans for teachers.

Energy Alabama recently opened the new education section on our website, providing lesson plans that teachers can use to teach their students about the power of sustainable energy. We offer lesson plans for students as young as kindergarten, and solar STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) kits that can be purchased for the classroom allowing middle and high school students to take energy concepts to the next level. We even host an annual STEM competition called the Switch Blade Competition that challenges high school and college students to redesign and manufacture the blades of a military wind power system, originally designed for the high-speed winds of Afghanistan, so that they work with the low winds of Alabama.

The solar STEM kits allow for real-world investigation of sustainable energy concepts. They can be integrated with provided lesson plans for specific activities like:

  • Tracking the movement of the sun
  • The effect of shading and shadows
  • Projecting energy production based on season
  • Comparing modeled energy production to actual

Of course, many teachers and students will work together to create their own uses for the solar STEM kits, creating an endless number of learning opportunities.

We spoke with many teachers at the conference who were surprised and quite happy to find that there was an option for them. They expressed that many students have asked for these types of learning opportunities but they did not previously have access to them within their budget. Students want to learn but we have to give them what they need so that they can learn the concepts that are vital for future success.

Our lesson plans are free, but unfortunately the supplies needed are not. That’s where you can help out!

Donations to Energy Alabama can be designated for specific uses. A donation as little as $10 will allow us to bring a solar STEM kit into a classroom and assist that teacher in providing sustainable energy education. If you’d like to donate a complete kit to a school or classroom, your donation of $3500 would ensure that your school has what they need to offer sustainable energy education to students for years to come.

Help us improve our educational efforts by getting these solar STEM kits and sustainable energy into our schools. Of course, this is only one of our many efforts to bring sustainable energy education to students and adults alike. We are also available to present educational talks to your students in the classroom, at camps, or even at your church. If you would like to schedule one of our speakers please click here.

If you are a teacher, click here to sign up for our free sustainable energy lesson plans. If you’d like to donate to help us bring sustainable energy education to our schools please click here.

STEM professionals encourage next generation of STEM workers

STEM professionals encourage next generation of STEM workers through educational outreach. We are happy to have been a part of this event and to do everything that we can to encourage our youth and help teach them about sustainable energy.

While many students in Huntsville and surrounding areas are taking time off from their studies this summer, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math professionals helped administrators at a local summer enrichment program show students how summer downtime is a perfect opportunity to reinforce STEM.

Huntsville Center employees Erin Hamilton, Stacey Sapp and Juan Pace from the Engineering Directorate and Wesley Malone, Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate, acted as STEM mentors for kindergarten through eighth grade students in the Indian Creek Primitive Baptist Church Summer Enrichment Program June 19 and July 10, respectively.

Mentors helped students develop problem-solving skills with fun exercises and interactive design competitions. There were opportunities for students to generate drawings, choose fabrics, build a Corps tower, test solar panels and observe a windmill that is powered by the sun.

Indian Creek’s Summer Enrichment Program director Sarah Drake said she implemented the STEM platform for the students due to the Obama administration’s initiation of the Educate to Innovate Program in 2009, to make STEM learning a high priority — particularly to underrepresented populations. She said her goal is to find an innovative ways to introduce STEM activities to younger students and build on some of the concepts the older students have learned during the school year.

Full article available at www.army.mil

Living off the grid with Alden and Mari

Sustainable Energy Superstars – Off the Grid with Alden and Mari

We had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Alden and Mari back in June. Upon our arrival at the Trescotts, they let us know that if we had time they could also take us out to see a fully off-the-grid home owned by their good friends Alden and Mari.

Of course, we weren’t going to pass up that opportunity and we were so glad that we didn’t.

Alden and Mari live in a beautifully secluded area near Blountville AL, and like the Trescotts they offer their home as part of the annual Solar Home Tour each October. If you’d like to see what solar living is all about, we’d definitely suggest that you check this tour out.

Living off the grid with Alden and Mari

Alden and Mari's Off the Grid home - Alden and Mari’s home is not only 100% off the grid, but it’s also simply beautiful inside and out. They built the home out of straw-bale construction, with stucco walls and used trees that they cut from the land where they built their home. In addition to being solar-powered, they also collect and filter rain water for all of their water needs.

You might wonder “is it safe to drink?” The answer is quite simply, of course it is! In fact, it’s possible that their water is better filtered than the water you buy in the store.

Alden and Mari’ chose to live off the grid because of their desire to live a completely sustainable lifestyle. However, that their home is almost a half mile from the nearest road certainly helped their decision. In the end it was cheaper to be off-the-grid than to pay to have lines run.

This passive-solar home was built in 1996/97. Alden and Mari designed and constructed their home (from the roof/ceilings to the walls, windows, and floors) to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter, and to reject that same solar heat in the summer. When we walked into the home on an extremely warm June day, it felt more comfortable than my home.

In addition to the straw bale construction covered with stucco, the home also features:

  • South-facing super-insulated windows for solar gain and light
  • A large sunroom
  • A wood stove that heats the entire home
  • A solar-powered 1-ton air conditioner – they installed this later to reduce humidity.
  • ENERGY STAR rated appliances and LED lights
  • Vermicomposting and thermal composting
  • Rainwater collection for home, garden, and orchard use
  • Gravity-fed pond for drip irrigation
  • Well-water backup (just in case we have a year-long dry spell)

 

chickensThe home is 100% solar-powered. There is no backup generator. Power is stored during the day for use at night. Their water is heated using excess electricity.

If you haven’t guess yet, Alden is an engineer; he built his system and even built an extremely high-efficiency refrigerator and freezer inside an insulated cold room. In addition to how beautiful their home is inside, the outside views were amazing. The home is surrounded by their organic gardens and orchard, and sits on a hill providing an amazing view for miles. They share their home with a variety of pets and food-producers (a dog, chickens, ducks, and geese).

If you have the opportunity in October to attend the Solar Home Tour, you won’t be disappointed to experience this home or to meet Alden and Mari.

Avion Solutions Solar Ribbon Cutting

Avion Solutions Solar Array

Avion Solutions, a Huntsville-based company that specializes in aviation and engineering within Army Aviation, recently unveiled their new 50 kilowatt solar array. During the Avion Solutions solar ribbon-cutting ceremony, Randy Buckner, the Director of Research and Development was quick to point out that this was not the first step they’ve taken to reduce their energy use. Whether you are seeking energy efficiency in a home or a commercial facility, the first steps are in reducing energy use and making the overall facility more energy-efficient. Only after that is complete do you install something like a solar array.

Under Buckner’s leadership Avion has taken many steps to cut their energy consumption. When Avion was first entered their data in ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, the company’s facilities only received a score of 2 out of 100! Buckner set his sights on changing that and by making just simple small changes within the building they were able to increase their score to 54.

Buckner said the first step was awareness. Knowing the tools they had available and how to use them properly was the first step. Utilizing the software that came with their HVAC system, Buckner was able to optimize the system, and determine that a few small upgrades would mean big payoff.

Heating and cooling was responsible for 54% of Avion’s energy use. Using the tools they already had available, Buckner discovered that they were cooling already cold air in the winter. The HVAC system was running constantly. Optimizing the system use netted Avion a 41.3% energy savings.

The next step was upgrading the outdoor lighting to LED. This simple retrofit saved Avion another 11.6% on their energy bills.

Avion’s most recent (and largest) energy improvement was the installation of a revenue-generating photovoltaic system. They sell all their energy directly TVA under their Green Power Providers program at a 40% profit margin from the going retail rate (~$0.10/kWh). This agreement will provide Avion with a net profit of over $111,000 over the course of 20 years.

Avion Solutions solar grid tied system

Future Plans

But, they aren’t finished yet! Avion still has more plans to improve their energy efficiency with the goal of ‘Net Zero Energy’! They are partnered with Energy Alabama in our North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge to help other companies int the Huntsville/Madison County area reduce their energy usage too.

Buckner continues to work on awareness among the companies employees, showing them how small changes within their individual offices can net big payoffs. Where employees used to use space heaters to keep their office warm in the winter they are finding that they can now stay warm without it.

Avion already has automated lighting systems throughout the building, but Buckner has found that a small change in how those lights are set up could provide even more savings, while allowing individual employees more control over the level of lighting in their offices.

Avion has also placed an advanced order for a Tesla Power Wall which will use stored power to assist in reducing their overall usage during peak times. They also have plans to install electric car charging stations that will be available to Avion employees, customers, and neighbors.

This is obviously just the beginning for Avion as they lead the charge towards bringing Huntsville businesses to ‘Net Zero Energy’.

Learn more about the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge.