Technology

Small wind turbine, big difference

 By Robin Wylie

A portable micro wind turbine, made of 3D printed parts producing renewable and clean 5 volt USB power for you and those in need! Renewable energy isn’t just good for the planet. It’s good for people…

The rise of 3D printing has revolutionized the way people make things: Guns, medicine, even chocolate – you name it, now you can print it. And with the arrival of a new kind of wind turbine, the renewable energy sector looks set to join the printing boom.

Kyle Bassett, a Canadian grad student and entrepreneur, has designed and built a small, easy-to-assemble wind turbine that is composed largely of 3D-printed parts. With a production cost of less than $300, the turbines could provide a vital supply of electricity to communities in the developing world and help rescue efforts after natural disasters.

Working prototypes of the turbine, which uses an unconventional ‘sail blade’ design for use in low wind speeds, are already being rolled out by the hundred, after a KickStarter campaign by Bassett raised over $30,000. In October the turbines will start to be deployed to rural sites in Canada and developing nations such as Nicaragua.

“This project is all about getting renewable energy technology to the people who need it most,” says Bassett.

How it works a 3D printed small wind turbine

Each turbine has an output of five volts, which can be used to charge electronic devices directly via a USB connection, or charge battery packs for use elsewhere. Compared to the 220 volts available through the mains in Europe (or 120 in the USA), this might seem like a meager supply. But for the 1.3 billion people who lack access to electricity around the world, the ability to charge a mobile phone or GPS device could make a sizable difference to their lives.

The turbines could be every bit as important to disaster relief efforts. In the aftermath of earthquakes, hurricanes and other catastrophes, access to electricity can be a matter of life or death. Power outages mean that rescue efforts often go on in darkness. Vital medical electronics may also fail. Due to their low cost, easy assemblage and high portability — the components pack down into a 100 x 10 cm (39 x 4 in) tube — the new turbines are ideally suited for rapid, widespread deployment following future disasters.

The developed world could also benefit from this alternative source of wind energy. At present the cost of small wind turbines often stretches to thousands of dollars. With the reduced price tag, 3D-printed turbines like Bassett’s could become an affordable way to introduce renewable energy into the home.

about the author
Robin Wylie
Freelance earth/space science journalist. Currently finishing off a PhD in volcanology at University College London.