Building a Better Windmill

What if turbines weren’t so awful to be around?
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Thomas Porostocky

Nobody likes living near wind turbines. They’re loud and obtrusive, and their slicing blades create a strobe-light shadow effect. nimbyism may be one of the reasons that wind energy, despite its many advantages, supplies just 4.8 percent of electric power in the U.S.

But what if turbines weren’t quite so awful to be around—what if, in fact, they were quiet and good-looking? Researchers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have led the development of a “windmill” that converts wind energy into electricity without using any moving parts.

A prototype of the Electrostatic Wind Energy Convertor, designed by the Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo, has a rectangular frame bridged by horizontal steel tubes, which are lined with electrodes that generate a negatively charged field. Nozzles on the tubes spray positively charged droplets of water [1]. When wind blows through the frame, the positive particles are pushed off the tubes, against the force of the negative field [2]. The separation of positive and negative charges generates potential energy that is converted into electricity [3]. Unlike traditional windmills, which convert rotational energy into electric power, this one is silent and is expected to require minimal maintenance.

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Esther Yi does story research for The Atlantic.

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