Neat thinking: “Windbelt, Cheap Generator Alternative, Set to Power Third World” [Popular Mechanics] tells the story of Humdinger, the world’s first turbine-less wind generator.

Working in Haiti, Shawn Frayne, a 28-year-old inventor based in Mountain View, Calif., saw the need for small-scale wind power to juice LED lamps and radios in the homes of the poor. Conventional wind turbines don’t scale down well—there’s too much friction in the gearbox and other components. “With rotary power, there’s nothing out there that generates under 50 watts,” Frayne says. So he took a new tack, studying the way vibrations caused by the wind led to the collapse in 1940 of Washington’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge (aka Galloping Gertie).

Frayne’s device, which he calls a Windbelt, is a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils. Prototypes have generated 40 milliwatts in 10-mph slivers of wind, making his device 10 to 30 times as efficient as the best microturbines. Frayne envisions the Windbelt costing a few dollars and replacing kerosene lamps in Haitian homes.

Neat thinking to take aeroelastic flutter, what caused the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to do this (starts around 1:20 into video)...

...and turn it into power for the third world (and potentially more):


Below, Frayne discusses his model for invention. Money quote: “A lot of times when you really box yourself into a tight corner, that’s when you do your best thinking.”

[Thanks RH]