From Russia with wind power

US and Russian researchers have teamed up to develop vertical-axis wind turbines – so named because the blades revolve around a vertical axle, like an eggbeater.

Last year, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory teamed up with engineers at the Makeyev State Rocket Centre near Miass in Russia, and alternator developer Empire Magnetics of Rohnert Park, CA to develop vertical-axis wind turbines, so named because the blades revolve around a vertical axle, like an eggbeater.

Now, the Russian researchers have developed a 3kW prototype that stands almost thirty feet tall. And a smaller 1kW turbine that can be easily loaded inside a car.

The prototypes mark the first-year milestone of a two-year, $1 million project funded by the US DOE, with about $150,000 going to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and about $350,000 going to the Russian site each year.

The small-scale windmills are designed to be used anywhere power lines don’t reach, such as remote ranches and villages. They can also be placed on top of buildings to supplement an existing power supply.

Several of the prototypes will be delivered to the US in January for field tests. The City of Berkeley has offered its marina as a test site, and perhaps one or two will sprout up at Berkeley Lab.

Further in the future, the team hopes to build a 30kW turbine and a 100kW turbine, a design that rivals the power offered by the more conventional horizontal axis windmills that dot the Altamont Pass in California.

Although US windmill designers have traditionally favoured horizontal turbines because they are more efficient (per unit area swept) than vertical axis turbines, refinements in vertical axis technology are closing this efficiency gap.

Business prospects for the new windmills already appear rosy in Russia, where the scientists have received 450 orders without advertising. For its part, Empire Magnetics plans to introduce the turbines to the domestic US market.