DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - ENERGY EFFICIENCY -

IN­SPIRED BY a NASA space rover, Ni­co­las Orel­lana from Chile and Yaseen Noorani from Kenya set out to har­ness ur­ban wind with an in­ven­tive new type of tur­bine.

The two are In­ter­na­tional In­no­va­tion MSc stu­dents at Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity (Eng­land) and, in re­sponse to a de­po­si­tion that stated that global is­sues in­creas­ingly de­mand col­lab­o­ra­tive, cross­cul­tural re­sponses, set out to har­ness ur­ban wind with an in­ven­tive new type of tur­bine.

Their work has won them a James Dyson Award. The an­nual grant gives stu­dents and re­cent grad­u­ates of en­gi­neer­ing and de­sign the op­por­tu­nity to show their prob­lem-solv­ing in­ven­tions on a global stage. The brief is sim­ple; de­sign some­thing which solves a prob­lem, big or small.

The premise be­hind the duo’s project – O-Wind Tur­bine – is that taller cities are built, the windier they be­come. In the hunt for re­new­able sources of power gen­er­a­tion this pow­er­ful and plen­ti­ful re­source is left un­tapped largely be­cause tra­di­tional wind tur­bines only cap­ture wind trav­el­ling in one direc­tion. This means they are very in­ef­fi­cient in cities where the wind is un­pre­dictable and multi-di­rec­tional.

When wind blows through cities it be­comes trapped be­tween build­ings, is dragged down to the street and is pushed up into the sky.

This cat­a­pults wind into chaos, which ren­ders con­ven­tional tur­bines un­us­able. Us­ing a sim­ple geo­met­ric shape, O-Wind Tur­bine is de­signed to utilise this pow­er­ful un­tapped re­source, gen­er­at­ing en­ergy even on the windi­est of days.

Orel­lana first be­came in­ter­ested in the chal­lenge of mul­ti­di­rec­tional wind af­ter study­ing NASA’s Mars Tum­ble­weed Rover. Six feet in di­am­e­ter, this in­flat­able ball was de­signed to au­tonomously bounce and roll like tum­ble­weed, across Mars’ sur­face to mea­sure at­mo­spheric con­di­tions and geo­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion. Like con­ven­tional wind tur­bines, it was pow­ered by uni­di­rec­tional wind blows which se­verely im­paired the rover’s mo­bil­ity when faced with ob­struc­tions, of­ten throw­ing it off course and re­sult­ing, ul­ti­mately, in the fail­ure of the project.

By ex­plor­ing the lim­i­ta­tions of the Tum­ble­weed, Orel­lana’s three-di­men­sional wind tur­bine tech­nol­ogy was born. Orel­lana and Noorani soon iden­ti­fied how cities could use this tech­nol­ogy to har­ness en­ergy to pro­duce elec­tric­ity.

Harry Hoster, Di­rec­tor of En­ergy Lan­caster at Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity ad­vised and sup­ported the team in the de­sign process.

“When the two stu­dents first ap­proached us about test fa­cil­i­ties for a new wind tur­bine de­sign, we first thought it would just be the 23rd vari­a­tion of some plain vanilla sys­tem,” he said. “When they humbly showed their video and their pro­to­type, how­ever, we were, ex­cuse the pun, blown away. Only hold­ing it in your hands and play­ing with it gives you a chance to un­der­stand what their new de­vice ac­tu­ally does and how, if things go right, its abil­ity to cap­ture any ran­dom breezes will take ur­ban en­ergy har­vest­ing to an­other level.”


O-Wind Tur­bine is a 25cm sphere with geo­met­ric vents that sits on a fixed axis and spins when wind hits it from any direc­tion. When wind en­ergy turns the de­vice, gears drive a gen­er­a­tor which con­verts the power of the wind into elec­tric­ity. This can ei­ther be used as a di­rect source of power, or it can be fed into the elec­tric­ity grid. Orel­lana and Noorani aim for O-Wind Tur­bine to be in­stalled to large struc­tures such as the side of a build­ing, or bal­cony, where wind speeds are at their high­est.

Orel­lana said that he hoped that O-Wind Tur­bine will im­prove the us­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity of tur­bines for peo­ple across the world. “Cities are windy places, but we are cur­rently not har­ness­ing this re­source. Our be­lief is that mak­ing it eas­ier to gen­er­ate green en­ergy, peo­ple will be en­cour­aged to play a big­ger own role in con­serv­ing our planet. Win­ning the in­ter­na­tional James Dyson Award has val­i­dated our con­cept. The at­ten­tion we’ve re­ceived so far has been hum­bling and given us the con­fi­dence to see the de­vel­op­ment of this con­cept as a fu­ture ca­reer. Al­ready we are in dis­cus­sions with in­vestors and we hope to se­cure a deal in the com­ing months.”


Cities in the UK like Lon­don and Leeds have his­tor­i­cally been low- rise un­til re­cently, how­ever in­creased winds due to sky­scrapers, is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing an is­sue. In 2015 the Walk Talkie build­ing on 20 Fenchurch Street was ac­cused of cre­at­ing a wind tun­nel that was blow­ing com­muters off the curb. Cau­tious of the im­pact of wind in cities, the City of Lon­don has cre­ated a pol­icy frame­work to gov­ern wind ef­fects from tall build­ings.

Over half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion now live in cities ac­cord­ing to the UN, a num­ber which is grow­ing as more and more na­tions ur­banise ru­ral ar­eas and den­sify their towns. Chicago, the home of the world’s first ever sky­scraper, is widely known as ‘the windy city’. Welling­ton also has its rep­u­ta­tion with some re­ports say­ing our cap­i­tal is the world’s windi­est city. Punta Are­nas in Chile, also makes the list as one of the world’s windi­est cities.


The idea of send­ing a spher­i­cal, wind-pro­pelled ve­hi­cle (or “Mars Ball”) to the Red Planet was orig­i­nally con­ceived in 1977 by Jac­ques Bla­m­ont of NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory (JPL) and the Uni­ver­sity of Paris. Since then the con­cept evolved in the Mars Tum­ble­weed rover. This is a con­cept for a light­weight, spher­i­cal, de­ploy­able struc­ture, with a con­fig­u­ra­tion that max­imises drag to cap­ture the Mar­tian wind for mo­bil­ity and ex­tended mis­sion du­ra­tion. Its core pur­pose is to sur­vey the Red Planet, to pro­vide vi­tal in­for­ma­tion that could im­prove fu­ture ex­plo­ration.


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