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The remarkable first race for wind-powered vehicles

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September 7, 2008

The remarkable first race for wind-powered vehicles

The remarkable first race for wind-powered vehicles

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September 7, 2008 Over 2000 years ago, the Frisians who first settled the Netherlands began to build the first dykes to hold back the water in the Netherlands. Having battled adversity from the elements since AD/CE (Anno Domini/Common Era) year numbering began has created the type of proactive mindset required for survival on a planet with finite resources and some large scale challenges. It has enabled the Netherlands to embrace sustainable technologies and business practices far more readily than other countries. In recent times the Dutch have conducted the first Hydrogen Fuel Cell Racing event, the first solar boat race and a fortnight ago the Dutch town of Den Helder held the “Aeolus Race”, the first for wind-powered vehicles. The winning Ventomobile from Stuttgart University was the clear winner, running at an amazing 64% of wind speed directly into the wind.

The Netherlands lies partially below sealevel. The country would be flooded regularly if not protected by seawalls and sand dunes which defend the hinterland. The dunes form a natural barrier which is constantly moving both seaward and landward under the influence of the North Sea and the reigning winds. Inhabitants of Dutch coastal regions have crusaded against the water for centuries thus creating a landscape shaped by men.

The first race for wind-powered vehicles?

Of course it wasn’t the first race for wind-powered vehicles – land yachts have been around for millennia and the first race for wind-powered vehicles almost certainly took place in Ancient Egypt – the Egyptians were the first to effectively harness the forces of nature to power a wheeled vehicle. Given the vagaries of recorded history in ancient times, perhaps there were even earlier functional land yachts - sailing on water has been around much longer, and such is the ingenuity of man that there were doubtless prior attempts to put that other fundamental enabling technology (the wheel) together with sail power to create a powered vehicle.

So, with boys being boys, and man’s natural competitive spirit, we suspect the first race for wind-powered vehicles probably took place the first time two land yachts were in the same place and that was most likely in Europe two thousand years ago - so much for the first race for automobiles which took place little more than one hundred years ago.

The Chinese also had "wind-driven carriages" in the 6th century AD, during the Liang Dynasty, and eventually mounted masts and sails on large wheelbarrows.

The Chinese use of wind power is well documented.

The earliest text describing the Chinese use of mounting masts and sails on large vehicles is the Book of the Golden Hall Master (written in 552 AD) which describes a "wind-driven carriage" able to carry thirty people. There was another wind-driven carriage built in about 610 AD for the Emperor Yang of Sui as described in the Continuation of the New Discourses on the Talk of the Times. Robert Temple describes such vehicles in his book “The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention” (ISBN 0671620282), as does Joseph Needham in his landmark work “Science and Civilisation in China”, and given the recent book “1434” by Gavin Menzies, which demands a reappraisal of history, there’s every reason to believe that China’s thinking influenced the development of this motive force in Europe.

Current Eurocentric history credits 16th century Flemish scientist Simon Stevin with the precursor to the modern land yacht which was invented under the patronage of Prince Maurice of Orange, and subsequently used by the good Prince for entertaining his guests.

In 1898, the Dumont brothers of De Panne, Belgium, developed a land yacht whose sails were based on contemporary Egyptian sailboats used on the Nile River. The first races were held on the beaches of Belgium and France in 1909. Land yachts were also used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to transport goods on dry lakes in the United States and Australia. The modern land yacht, a three-wheeled polyester/fibreglass and metal cart, often with a wing-mast and relatively rigid (full-batten) sails, has been used since 1960. (see Wikipedia)

And for the latest incarnation of the Land Yacht, check out the Blokart.

RACING AEOLUS 2008 - a landmark event

RACING AEOLUS 2008 was a landmark event nonetheless – in the same way that new attempts to capture more of the wind’s energy with clever sail systems (as used in the Maltese Falcon and Project Greenjet) are giving the once unfashionable sail power a second chance, events such as the Aeolus Race will breed a new type of “can do” engineer who will bring new thinking to an ancient art and perhaps yield far more efficient capture of wind-power than we ever thought possible.

According to Professor Gustav Winkler, PhD, Fachhochschule Flensburg and mentor to the competing team from the Flensberg University of Applied sciences, the invention of the headwind bicyle, or rather headwind quadricycle, dates back to fifteenth-century Italy. Four hundred years later, a patent application by a Bavarian for a true headwind bicycle was refused, not because the idea had been known before, but because "it obviously couldn't work". Winkler harboured his own headwind bicycle design from an early age, finally demonstrating it in the early nineties.

RACING AEOLUS 2008 was organised by Wind Energy Events as part of the festival surrounding The Tall Ships’ Races 2008 from August 20 to 23, 2008 in Den Helder, in Holland.

Wind Energy Events was formed by the Dutch Association of Technology Transfer (ATO-NH), the Energy Research Centre of The Netherlands (ECN) and De Jong Insurances which saw their “cooperation as a long-term commitment to climate changing possibilities.”

Windenergy Events’ Mission statement is to “organize various, international public events, in which WIND is promoted both as a source of energy and means of transportation. The events will have a highly innovative and educational character with particular regard to sustainable energy. Thus we strive to seek increased public understanding for sustainable energy technologies, awareness and the motivation that goes with changing public opinion towards overall sustainability.”

The North Holland Association of Technology Transfer (ATO-NH) is the intermediary for knowledge exchange in the field of sustainable energy technology. It serves the corporate sector in general and SMEs in particular. ATO-NH achieves its goals by intensifying collaboration between knowledge institutions, training institutes and government institutions. ATO-NH initiates, stimulates and coordinates broad industrial innovations using high-grade knowledge networks. The ultimate goal is the creation of sustainable employment in the region. ECN develops high-level knowledge and technology for a sustainable energy system and transfers it to the market.

The Rules Defining the rules for wind powered vehicles for the race was done thus: the competing yachts had to be land-based vehicles driven on wheels, with one driver, and propelled by a device with spinning blades or turbine coupled to the wheels. Temporary storage of energy was allowed during the race, but the storage device had to be empty at the beginning of the event.

The Race

Six European universities and research centres entered the race, but the InVentus team of 20 Stuttgart University students scooped the pool, also winning prizes for its innovative design and the effectiveness of its PR work. The ECN-impulse built by the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) scored second place, while the Flensburg University of Applied Sciences made up the podium in this historic event with its Headwind Tricycle. The race was set up so that contestants had to drive directly into the wind, without tacking.

During the preliminary events, the Stuttgart Ventomobile quickly showed itself to be the lightest (just 130 kg) and most efficient vehicle and went on to take a clear win.

“Winning this prize was a great reward for our intense construction work during the last few months”, said Alexander Miller of the InVentus team. Miller, Jan Lehmann and 20 Stuttgart University students developed and constructed the vehicle over the last year with the support of the Endowed Chair of Wind Energy at the University of Stuttgart.

The Aerospace Engineering students constructed the drive shaft and the rotor blades of the three-wheeler utilising the know-how at the Stuttgart University Department of Composites and Lightweight Construction. The experience of the students and the staff at the Institute of Aero- and Gasdynamics also helped greatly in optimizing the vehicle. The carbon-fibre tower can be turned into the wind, and the variable-pitch blades can be adjusted to obtain the optimal angle to extract the most power from any given wind speed. The power is then transmitted to the driving axle via two bicycle gearsets and a bicycle chain, minimising frictional losses.

Matthias Schubert, Chief Technical Officer of the teams’ main sponsor REpower Systems AG, applauded the integration of the InVentus Ventomobile project into the coursework of the students: “The achievement of managing a big team over many months, and even making select construction tasks part of undergraduate teaching cannot be estimated highly enough! The enthusiasm the students show in renewable energies and the development of innovative solutions should serve the industry as an example for the development of new technologies.”

Prof. Martin Kühn, head of the Endowed Chair of Wind Energy and mentor of the InVentus team, was equally pleased with the success of his students. “The expert knowledge the students acquired during this project constitute an unique experience which will prove extremely helpful in their future careers. The Ventomobile and its competitors represent excellent and creative examples of intelligent uses of wind energy”, he pointed out, at the same time promoting a better use of renewable energies.

The three competing teams which did not make the podium, were the Technical University of Denmark, Zefyros, and Team Baltic Thunder from the University of Applied Sciences Kiel and the Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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