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EWICON bladeless wind turbine generates electricity using charged water droplets

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April 3, 2013

Dutch researchers have developed the EWICON, a bladeless windmill with no moving parts tha...

Dutch researchers have developed the EWICON, a bladeless windmill with no moving parts that produces electricity by pushing charged water droplets into the wind

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Wind energy may be one of the more sustainable sources of power available, but the spinning blades of conventional wind turbines require regular maintenance and have attracted criticism from bird lovers. That might explain why we've seen wind turbine prototypes that enclose the blades in a chamber or replace them entirely with a disc-like system. But researchers in the Netherlands set out to eliminate the need for a mechanical component entirely and created the EWICON, a bladeless wind turbine with no moving parts that produces electricity using charged water droplets.

Where most wind turbines generate electricity through mechanical energy, the EWICON (short for Electrostatic WInd energy CONvertor) creates potential energy with charged particles – in this case, water droplets. The current design consists of a steel frame holding a series of insulated tubes arranged horizontally. Each tube contains several electrodes and nozzles, which continually release positively-charged water particles into the air. As the particles are blown away, the voltage of the device changes and creates an electric field, which can be transferred to the grid for everyday use.

Energy output would be dependent not only on the wind speed, but also the number of droplets, the amount of charge placed on the droplets, and the strength of the electric field.

The designers of the EWICON windmill incorporated it into the sign on top of the Stadstimm...

According to the developers, the system could easily be installed on land or sea, much like regular wind turbines, but the design is particularly suited to urban areas. Expansive wind farms usually aren't feasible in big cities due to a lack of space, but one or more EWICONs could be incorporated into existing architecture just by altering it's shape. Also, with a lack of moving parts, it would require less maintenance while producing less noise and no flickering shadows.

So far, only a few small-scale prototypes of the EWICON have been produced: two that are incorporated into a sign on top of the Stadstimmerhuis 010 building in Rotterdam and another standalone version that was erected on the Delft Technical University campus. The designers are currently testing the device's capabilities, but are trying to gather funding for a larger model that could produce more power.

The EWICON was designed by architecture firm Mecanoo using technology developed by Delft Technical University researchers Johan Smit and Dhiradj Djairam. The video below demonstrates how the EWICON works.

Sources: Mecanoo, Delft Technical University

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things.   All articles by Jonathan Fincher
24 Comments

it's a bit light on how it works.

where do the charged particles come from.

how is bleeding charged particles going to give you a nett energy gain?

what happens when you run out of water? Wouldn't it be more efficient to just run an open tap through a turbine?

Adrien
3rd April, 2013 @ 12:54 am PDT

Great idea and it should be inexpensive to produce and maintain these units - but how efficient are they? The article makes no mention of power output or indeed power input. Surely we need some economic data before being able to judge the efficacity of this concept. If it's really viable one can foresee many applications...and hopefully less or those dreadful turbines.

More info please!

Alien
3rd April, 2013 @ 01:49 am PDT

Assuming that it works. (I'm doubtful)

How much water is used per Watt generated?

Slowburn
3rd April, 2013 @ 03:36 am PDT

This is a variation on the "Kelvin water dropper" electrostatic generator.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelvin_water_dropper

In Kevin's design the gravitational potential energy of the water is providing the energy. In this system wind is providing some energy, but some still comes from gravity since the water drops are still falling.

This design would use a LOT of water unless they had a system set up to recycle the water and pump it back up. However, the place where the water lands is an electrical contact that collects charge, so having a pipe moving this water back to the top would short out the system. There is probably a solution to this though.

If the Kelvin water dropper was at all efficient we could have been using it as a hydroelectric generator all along instead of the mechanical system we use now. I get the feeling someone was impressed with the Kelvin design and said "What if we make it sideways?!?!", and are researching it not because it has any serious shot of being useful but because they wanted to play with it.

RandomNinja
3rd April, 2013 @ 06:16 am PDT

Sooo basically if I touch this, I get fried ... right? Perfect for urban settings ... especially up to the moment some kid in the park touches one.

Richard Lachmann
3rd April, 2013 @ 08:27 am PDT

How much energy does it take to lift the water before it is dropped? The output may be trivial compared to the investment in energy and the water used. I suppose one could use a traditional wind mill to lift the water. I would also expect that a tall building would add energy to the falling water or perhaps allow these units to be stacked serially so that the water gives off charge more than once in a single fall.

Air conditioning water towers already cascade water in order to dispense heat created by the chiller motors. Perhaps this could be combined with an AC water tower as the energy of lifting the water and expense of evaporation are already in play. The electrical charges might even help with the ever present algae issue in the towers.

Jim Sadler
3rd April, 2013 @ 09:29 am PDT

Seriously? This sounds like using an onboard electric fan to push a sail boat!

So where does the energy come from to charge the particles? Where does the water come from? Who pays for both the water and the energy this system needs to generate the electricity?....

techmanmacho
3rd April, 2013 @ 10:03 am PDT

Wouldn't a very large constantan-tin connection be just as effective. Or maybe a very large sheet of zinc buried underground(cold) and carbon above ground(hot)?

Kwazai
3rd April, 2013 @ 10:45 am PDT

@techmanmacho:

It's been a long time (15+ years), but it seems like your example was covered in my statics class and it does actually work, it just isn't very efficient. I believe it was something like the air bouncing off the sail produces double for the force, so you end up with 2 vectors going forward, 1 going back. The rare occasion that someone actually survives a parachute malfunction is usually because they land in mud or something similar. They stick (and because mud is soft it slightly increases the time it takes you to slow down, further reducing the force). Bouncing off pavement, hard earth, water (hard at 150 mph anyway) doubles the force.

BillSF
3rd April, 2013 @ 10:57 am PDT

this is clearly awesome and will be super useful for something, i'm not sure what that something is, but it's certainly NOT going to ever be useful for creating commercial scale, or even home scale energy for consumption by powerhungry appliances.

zevulon
3rd April, 2013 @ 12:01 pm PDT

Well, I'm glad to see this... Again.

Popular Science had an article on this back in the 90's, IIRC. It was the cover picture.

Air contains free electrons. Not huge amounts, except after a thunderstorm, but there's a steady supply.

To get those electrons to flow to ground, a micro-droplet of water will do the job.

You have to pump the water uphill, unless of course you're very clever and site this just downslope from a river; then gravity and a pipeline does the work for you.

The loose electrons ground out and flow through your Power Fence.

It works the opposite way too. If you've got solar power, but need water, you can harvest water from the wind by bleeding electrons into it.

It's called a "Fog Fence".

Fairly handy if you live near the ocean; there's a lot of moisture in the sea breeze to collect.

The challenge either way is to make the thing using the least amount of metal. I would harvest all that bamboo that's dying off in India and use that for the framework with metal "leaves" attached to it.

Nicola Tesla might have been the first to discover this relationship; he mentioned in his autobiography that running his giant Tesla Coil in Colorado Springs caused a sudden fog to form out of nowhere.

Feed stray, high voltage into air holding water, and the water condenses out. Feed water droplets into air holding loose electrons, and electricity grounds out.

William Carr
3rd April, 2013 @ 01:51 pm PDT

Mass produce this, radical for cities worldwide, sweet

Stephen N Russell
3rd April, 2013 @ 05:46 pm PDT

I think they are forgetting the inputs in that it's all linked to the gravitation potential of the water mass flow. Perhaps they're thinking it will get 1/2 Kelvin's rig in 9.8m/s winds? How many watts can actually be siphoned off is another question. Cleaning out the zapped small birds and insects might be another.

Drake Kyzine
3rd April, 2013 @ 06:08 pm PDT

The concept of putting them in cities may not be practical. If you put them on top of buildings you're going to have to pay for the potential energy needed to raise the water up to the roof. I suppose you could collect rain water, but still, this article has no numbers on efficiency and power generation per square foot of machine. Also, where is the energy produced to wind speed curve?.

Peter Davila
3rd April, 2013 @ 06:52 pm PDT

I love the idea and that you get more energy out than you put in.

I only have one concern - Legionnaires Disease.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legionellosis

having worked with people who have consulted on outbreaks due to cooling towers and air conditioners it would be the only thing I'd want assurances on.

bulwynkl
4th April, 2013 @ 04:12 am PDT

You can find more info here: http://repository.tudelft.nl/view/ir/uuid:e1cfdada-85ea-45c4-b6e4-b798abf5917e/

Mattias Pilv
4th April, 2013 @ 04:13 am PDT

This concept is brilliant in its simplicity and makes you wonder " Why didn't I think of this"...It's basic electromagnetic induction at work..Only, instead of a wire carrying current between magnets, we've got charged particles (of water)...But of course, generating a decent amount of electricity and improving efficiency is a different ball game.

mk_sharpshooter
4th April, 2013 @ 05:49 am PDT

So let me get this straight...on one side you charge the molecules and on the other side you remove the charge...where is the actual generation here? You're merely transferring the same charge from point A to point B.

If they had said that they were removing the free electrons from ionized rain-water then it would have been something!

Daniel Beach
4th April, 2013 @ 06:10 am PDT

@BillSF

The momentum-reversing phenomenon you're referencing is at the heart of the Pelton Wheel impulse turbine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelton_wheel), whereby an incoming stream of fluid has its direction reversed and thus generates 2x momentum from with (compared with simply stopping the stream). You are correct in saying that the maximum ideal gain from this design is 2 vectors forward from 1 back. This is at best only equal to the propulsion of simply aiming the fan backwards, sans-sail, so is definitely not a great idea.

While this article seems to showcase an interesting principle of physics, I, like many readers, am not optimistic of its ability to be scaled to any major, useful application. I hope I'm wrong.

WinDrummer
4th April, 2013 @ 09:17 am PDT

No chopping blades to threaten flying critters... but would it serve as a huge bug zapper for any bird that flew into it? Perhaps it's not useful for a location where water resources are scarce.

John Hagen-Brenner
5th April, 2013 @ 08:02 am PDT

Has someone forgotten that positive ions create the equivalent of the Mistral wind that causes anger and frustration - can negative ions be used instead? Create a calming atmosphere at the same time.

RicardoSpain
5th April, 2013 @ 08:21 am PDT

It is indeed a different option for the wind energy and proves a point that brilliant ideas sprout under crisis. I understand that there are still teething problems prior to transforming the same into a commercial option. BUT, it is a great idea to look at this possibility more closely from the implementing point of view and support additional details for fine tuning from the experts.

Hearty congratulations to the author.

Asoor Shyam
6th April, 2013 @ 04:42 am PDT

It works by making the wind transport charged particles against a voltage gradient - typically between a tower-mounted grid at a high potential, and the ground some distance away from the tower (the farther, the more work is done). The net work is converted into electricity. That's the short version, and many versions were patented decades ago by an American named Alvin Marks. There are significant technical difficulties in making this work in practice. One is power conditioning - the raw power is in the form of minute direct currents at very high voltages, and that has to be converted efficiently into much larger alternating currents at much lower RMS voltages. A difficult task in the late 1960s when Marks started working on these concepts, but probably more doable now. Another difficulty is generating water droplets in a narrow range of optimal sizes for best coupling to the wind, and for giving them an optimal charge. Performance of the system as a whole is very sensitive to both parameters and to how they interrelate. I've been waiting since the 1980s to see whether something would come of Marks' work - it will be interesting to see how this Dutch project turns out.

piolenc
1st May, 2013 @ 09:18 pm PDT

Here is a link to one of Alvin Marks' patents on this subject: Charged aerosol wind/electric power generator with solar and/or gravitational regeneration

http://www.google.com/patents/US4433248

PeterVermont
2nd May, 2013 @ 07:32 am PDT
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