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T-box concept to capture wind energy from trains


March 30, 2011

The T-box concept would be installed between railway sleepers, and would harness the wind ...

The T-box concept would be installed between railway sleepers, and would harness the wind of passing trains to generate electricity (All images courtesy of Qian Jiang)

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As anyone living near railway tracks will tell you, speeding trains generate quite a bit of wind as they whoosh past. Industrial designers Qian Jiang and Alessandro Leonetti Luparini have come up with a device that's installed between the sleepers on a track, and as the train passes overhead, the wind drives a turbine to generate electricity. The T-box devices could be placed along railway or subway lines, and make good use of an otherwise wasted resource.

Unlike innovations such as the Solar Roadways project and Solar Wind concept, the T-box device wouldn't have to depend on a natural energy source, but instead one that is produced as a consequence of human activity. China's Jiang and Italy's Luparini reckon that about 150 of these devices could be installed along a kilometer (0.62 miles) of track and as a train speeds along, the turbines inside the device would generate electricity.

T-box devices would be placed between railway sleepers - with about 150 devices installed ...

The designers say that the turbine is based on models produced by Hetronix, although the blades are obviously designed to rotate about a central axis within the cylinder housing. Much of the T-box would be below ground level with only the vent showing, and even though the wind produced by passing trains may only come in short bursts, installing them along a busy route should result in a decent amount of energy being produced.

Of course, keeping these babies clean and safe could be a problem. In addition to the dust and debris kicked up as the train speeds along or grime and grease deposits escaping from underneath, protecting such shiny boxes from the destructive hands of vandals could prove somewhat tiresome.

The final rendering of the T-box concept

However, it's an appealing concept with huge potential for further development. The T-box design took silver in last year's Lite-On awards and was exhibited in Xuexue Institute, Taipei during the summer.

Have a look at the Lite-On presentation video and see what you think:

Via Yanko

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden

Dumb. An occasional train rushes through. From each passage, a tiny fraction of the wind energy might be recoverable. Untold millions of dollars per mile for what, a few kilowatt hours per month? And that's an extremely optimistic estimate.

30th March, 2011 @ 02:52 pm PDT

The question is: is this more cost-effective than harnessing natural sources of wind? It would be hard to believe - but presumably they have done their sums.

Steve Bennett
30th March, 2011 @ 04:56 pm PDT

Gadgeteer, I couldn't agree more. What a waste of resources, use the same turbines in a place that the wind always blows.

Also, I would imagine that you are causing wind resistance.

30th March, 2011 @ 05:09 pm PDT

Long time reader/imaginer, first time poster... The point is not whether this product is cost efficient yet or not. The point should be how can they improve and go on from here.

@Abe: some subways run 24 hours a day 7 days a week, i dont know any other place on earth with as measurable a consistent wind as that. everything can be geared to that specific tunnel and the speeds they know they travel.

@Gadgeteer: i agree long distance trains would not be feasible. focus should be on subways... improvements always need to be made. But this is the first article on a new tech, why shoot it down before it is made better?

30th March, 2011 @ 09:06 pm PDT

As much as I agree with Gadgeteer and Abe, there is a fundamental point that this article is missing: if you tap into this energy, you will increase the resistance that the train is experiencing.

It will only be a tiny increase, but then again you will only produce a tiny amount of energy. Basically, people: YOU CAN'T GET SOMETHING FOR NOTHING!!

If you use the heat of your feet to charge your mobile phone, you'll be cooling your feet, if you use the energy of your steps to do so, you will require more energy to walk, if you extract the energy of the vibrations of rails, you will introduce an extra elasticity in the system, requiring more energy for the train running on them!

Ultimately, it all comes down to the second law of thermodynamics - as always.

Gavrilo Bozovic
31st March, 2011 @ 12:03 am PDT

This type of projects puts us Product Designers to shame.

On train tracks, it would produce one super tiny amount of electrical energy, and would only pay for itself long after it turned to dust.

On subway tracks, this would also generate a tiny amount of energy, except that it would also increase the drag on the subway train.

The value of this is zero.

31st March, 2011 @ 05:40 am PDT

Hmm so we assume the train is having drag or resistance because of the current track design - so if you designed these fans to move the air in a better way away from the train then in theory could you not improve or decrease the effect of the drag on the train, so thereby any increase in restance is actually balances out by reducing the original drag.

31st March, 2011 @ 06:24 am PDT

I am so tired of these sorts of schemes masquerading as being useful. This is merely a hugely inefficient way of turning fossil fuel into electricity. You might as well mount a wind turbine on top of the train.

31st March, 2011 @ 06:49 am PDT

I agree with most of the posters here. I think there are better ways to capture that energy.

It seems to me that something like the Windbelt would be cheaper to manufacture, easier to install and potentially give you more energy. If the Windbelt was installed so that it was attached to the rail, you could get vibtations form both the rail and the wind.

As the train approaches, the rail would be vibrating long before the wind effect, resulting in 2-3 times more energy generated.

31st March, 2011 @ 06:50 am PDT

It certainly seems to be that based on simple conservation of energy principles, the increased drag on the train would come close to equaling the energy produced by the generators. Come to think of it, it might be more cost effective to find a way to reduce the wind generated by improved aerodynamics of the train or the tracks themselves (make the tracks allow air to move more smoothing over them so that it does not drag on the train).

31st March, 2011 @ 08:47 am PDT

I love the idea of the fan on top of the train. Lets put lots of them up there. Then perhaps you could generate enough electricity to power the train(lol)

Lets not forget rain and snow(the wrong sort) gumming up the works. This is the idea of a madman.

Hey let's put in some magnets with coils round them, then the train will generate current as it passes over. Yes, I know: This would cause a resistance to the train's motion. How about setting up a load of microphones up along the track. The sound of the passing train would generate electricity. All wacky ideas!

31st March, 2011 @ 08:56 am PDT

Gavrillo is absolutely correct, in order to power these turbines, wherever they may be placed, more energy must come from the train, therefore gain is unity MINUS friction, heat loss etc. You are left with just an exchange, and more effort required from the train.

Benefit can only be gained from a naturally occurring source, unless the lost energy can be used for say, braking, change of direction, heating, etc. etc.

Ian Colley.

31st March, 2011 @ 09:51 am PDT

The wind the gadgets would be harnessing has already been set in motion: how would that increase drag on the train?

While i agree that the idea doesn't sound practical, there is the consideration that the things would allow for the outflow of air from building up under the train, which does happen. Harnessing lost energy is not a "zero sum" situation.

Coils under the track would put a direct drag under the train, as would mounting turbines on the train. the devices only harness what would be other wise wasted.

I know the microphone idea was in jest, but the fact is it would only be harnessing the sound that the train made anyhow: no drag on the train.

Here is a thought: use these devices, and the microphones, to generate canceling soundwaves the same way that noise canceling headphones do.

Darren Johnson
31st March, 2011 @ 10:50 am PDT

It seems that it would better to try to reduce the amount of wind generated. It's usually orders of magnitude easier and cheaper to prevent "waste energy" than to harvest it!

31st March, 2011 @ 08:51 pm PDT

There is indeed an energy plus.

That comes because the drag is decreased by the turbines. The normal track bed is a fix barricade which builds up air pressure = drag. The turbines are not fix, they start rotating. This is like lowering the relative speed of train/ track bed. And that will lead to a decrease in air pressure = less drag.

BUT the amount of energy will be veeery little. There is more of a pressure change than wind beneath the train. And there is no way that this system will ever be cost effective.

Such a lot of devices, wiring, electronics, maintenance... and the energy will be lost on its way to a potential user anyway!

So, nice idea. But useless. Sorry.

31st March, 2011 @ 11:14 pm PDT

uh gavrilo, you are talking about a closed system or circuit where you can calculate the energy in the system. That is a closed system.

With a train you have an infinite number of energy inputs, like... sun, wind, nutron and nutrino bombardment from the universe in general etc.etc.etc. so the second law of thermodynamics does not play here.

It more like in an airplane where you cannot fly and its impossible to fly because you are heavy and there is something called gravity... But there is another law that overcomes the law of gravity, it is called the law of Aerodynamics that as long as you are moving,... you can fly.

1st April, 2011 @ 03:46 am PDT

this would be perfect even if there was some drag involved involved, especially if there is drag involved since high speed trains are reported to need a certain drag coeficient to have high stability.

1st April, 2011 @ 04:04 am PDT

I agree with D.Advocate - you are all so boringly defeatist. does it take an old person like myself (and probably others who are just browsing and not registered) to see that this has brilliant potential? Maybe you lot would just like to go along witht the hyper expensive nuclear energy programme that's being foisted on this country.

yes we can all see some defects (mostly pointed out in the original article) but its a great idea and the energy is available there to be converted, if the right locations are chosen.

When we first had our solar panels installed, people said we'd generate such a small amount it wouldn't be worth the initial outlay. Well, we aren't the equivalent of even a small power station but we are selling electricity back to the grid and hoping to save massively on rising fuel costs.

With modifications and a public with a bit of vision (!) I can see this scheme working at some time in the future. Good luck inventors, all our hopes are with you

1st April, 2011 @ 06:40 am PDT

Darren Johnson.

"The wind the gadgets would be harnessing has already been set in motion: how would that increase drag on the train?"

Have you heard of back-pressure?

Ian C.

1st April, 2011 @ 08:11 am PDT

Could they not adapt them and put them on the trains or under the trains that way they would be working all the time and much less cost and could they also be fitted to all public transport that way when the buses etc return to base they could contribute if not run all electrical services a massive saving

1st April, 2011 @ 08:20 pm PDT

Those who think the turbines would leach extra energy from the train are seriously wrong - the energy that powers the wind is already being lost by the train, and the turbines would scavenge only that energy which the train is already losing. The turbines would not create so-called "back pressure" - some people whine about laws of thermodynamics without any understanding of the actual science.

However, that said, the small amount of energy that would be created by each generation unit is not going to be worth the cost of the unit - even in a tunnel. Turbines and dynamos are very expensive to build, and would also require huge maintenance costs. A much better idea is to improve the train's aerodynamics, to reduce the energy lost to wind resistance in the first place. Also, subways normally have chimneys to allow air pressure ahead of the train to dissipate - otherwise every train would drive a slug of air ahead of it through the tunnel which would require massive additional energy (and blow the waiting commuters back into the street!) Improve those chimneys to remove air resistance in the tunnel even more efficiently, and get a much better return on your investment.

1st April, 2011 @ 11:15 pm PDT

"The turbines would not create so-called "back pressure" -from wayne247, and also "the energy that powers the wind is already being lost by the train" operative words 'BEING LOST'.

Wonderful! In that case they will carry on turning forever, minus the braking effect of friction of course!

The air moved by the train is double sided you know, it is compressed between the train and the turbine blades, and in order to turn these, an equal and opposite force is set up against the initiator of the air movement, viz. the train. q.e.d.

Let's make it simple, forget the physical laws, and think of pumping up your bike tyres....of course it rquires no effort does it?

2nd April, 2011 @ 09:18 am PDT

Or you can make the track more aero dynamic and save some energy instead of trying to recover inefficiency.

2nd April, 2011 @ 01:34 pm PDT

Hairbrain scheme. @GrannyVe:

Pity I had hoped old folk still remembered a decent education that included math. An expensive device between each sleeper. Le't throw some numbers at this and let's for sake of this discussion ignore that the energy this captures doesn't go at the cost of the energy taken to move the train in the first place (Which it does. Anyone with a basic knowledge of aerodynamics would know this)

Let's be super optimistic and assume one device produces 100 watts of power as the train passes.

The pressure wave would only occur at the beginning of the train. Let's say that pressure wave is reasonably long at 10 meters. When the train moves at 100km/h that means that wave has passed in 0.3 seconds.

Let's be super optimistic and assume there is no such thing as inertia. In reality of course there is just no way you get a stationary turbine rotating in 0.3 seconds. That would require a dramatic acceleration only possible on tiny paper windmills.

With sleepers approx spaced at 0.8 meters you would have 13 devices within the pressure wave at a time. Thus generating 13 x 100 = 1300 watts.

Mind you, you only get that 1300 watts for as long as there are these devices to pass over. So let's try to generate this power for 1 hour. This means a piece of track the length of 100km needs to be equipped with these generators. That is only one hundred twenty five thousand generators (125000). I am guessing these things don't come cheap. Say $500 a pop? So there is an investment of 62 million dollars to generate 1.3 kwh for every train that passes over this track. With the current price this 62 million dollar invention generated $0.10 worth of energy.

Even with a train passing every minute you would generate at best $6 worth of electrical power on this 100km piece of track.

Of course we will just ignore the maintenance nightmare to keep these 125000 generators clean and working.

Just for kicks, lets see how many km of track and dollars you need to generate 1 gigawatt of power which is what one single nuclear powerplant produces. 100 km of track generates 78 kw of power provided a train passes every minute. It would take 1282051 km of track with a train passing every minute to generate 1 gigawatt. This track wraps around earth 32 times and costs $795 billion dollars. But that is just the track. You need to have 76920 trains running continuously to generate this power. I guess a nuclear power plant sounds pretty environmentally friendly now doesn't it?

To even suggest that this could work and we need to use vision to make this happen is beyond idiotic. A post that makes a mockery of maths, let alone science. Do people still think these days or is wishful thinking all it takes to make things true?

Paul van Dinther
3rd April, 2011 @ 10:11 pm PDT

And what about an aerodynamic maglev subway? conect those with some capacitors under the monorails rails and store the energy to help the next train that passes... just sayin xD

Nacho Lotitto
4th April, 2011 @ 02:27 pm PDT

@Paul Van Dinther

hahahahahaha! owned.

Why would someone spend all this time modelling and rendering something so idiotic as this without thinking the practicalities through AT ALL!?

6th April, 2011 @ 02:30 am PDT


You might be right except for the fact that the impervious spaces between sleepers create more "back pressure" than the turbine blades would. they are not only immovable, their mass is effectively the same as the train.

Moveable turbine blades won't mass anywhere near what the train does, and much of the air will flow past anyhow, which will spin the blades, providing rotational energy to be harnessed for power.

Any "back pressure" will be negligible, and certainly less than conventional track setups.

Darren Johnson
7th April, 2011 @ 09:11 pm PDT

Just thinking... if this is a good idea attach it to the train instead of the track, then you only need one unit, and the user of the electric is the train so no transmission problems either.

Not only does it make more sense from a practical point, it highlights how stupid the idea is in general :)

13th April, 2011 @ 01:00 pm PDT

@ Darren Johnson.

We are not talking about space between sleepers, or of energy loss caused in any other way. Mass of a space the same as a train?

You do agree however that there is some back pressure created by the turbine blades.


Air movement generated by the movement of the train turns, [applies a force], to the turbine blades.

The force required to turn the turbine has a value, say X.

There is an equal and opposite force X applied to the generator.

The only energy generator in this equation is the movement of the train.

If you disagree, maybe you could tell us from where that X may have come?

30th April, 2011 @ 09:02 am PDT

Okay this is a great idea however wouldn't it be a better Idea to attach these to the out side of a train and capture the electricity via a system similar to that used to move a bumper car. It would be less costly, produce more electricity, and it would be esier to take care of them. Just saying.

Facebook User
1st October, 2011 @ 03:26 am PDT

What are the 'Balancing device' and "power transmission device" Used here?

An Eesh Royal
3rd August, 2012 @ 06:34 am PDT

pl tell me detail about T-box concept & which type of blades are used in the turbine in the T-box

14th October, 2012 @ 03:36 am PDT
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