Building a Better Turbine

  1. Wind Energy
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    Wind Energy

    The U.S. government, investors, and alternative energy developers have spent years of research and millions of dollars working to soup up existing wind-power technology to produce cleaner, more efficient energy.

    Conventional three-blade turbines on wind farms rely on lift to grab horizontal wind and to rotate with changes in breeze direction.

    Even with global purchases of turbines expected to decline 14 percent this year from the pace in 2010, companies are still investing in wind. They are generating new designs to create turbines that are mobile, can float, or can produce power on a smaller scale.

    Read on to see innovative wind turbine designs that have scrapped the conventional model.

    Photograph by Alessandro Rizzi/Gallery Stock

  2. Humpback Whale-Inspired Tech
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    Humpback Whale-Inspired Tech

    The blade of a Whale Power turbine has bumps to stem losses in efficiency that conventional turbines suffer because of insect buildup. The design, which includes a series of ridges that mimic humpback whale fins, could increase power production on existing wind farms, the company says.

  3. Tethered Kites
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    Tethered Kites

    Makani Power turbines fly like kites tethered to the ground. They sail in a circular pattern and are designed to produce energy with less wind than conventional turbines need. Should the connecting line break, however, there's potential for damage when the device crash-lands.

  4. Helium Flier
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    Helium Flier

    This spherical turbine from Magenn is filled with helium and flies as high as 1000 feet. More than $15 million has been spent so far on the project, which is still in prototype phase.
  5. Power at Blades' Tips
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    Power at Blades' Tips

    This Honeywell International (HON) turbine in New York's Long Island City uses a system of magnets to grab power at the blade tips, where speed is greatest. These models—which list for almost $6,500 at Ace Hardware—are best for homes and businesses.

  6. Designed to Deflect
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    Designed to Deflect

    This Optiwind generator in Connecticut is only partially constructed. The structure, which costs $750,000 to build, has a center cylinder that deflects the wind into the small, covered fans. At under 200 feet, the fans function below the migratory pattern altitude used by most birds.

  7. Vertical 'Eggbeater'
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    Vertical 'Eggbeater'

    This vertical-axis wind-turbine model was tested in Western Australia in the 1980s. As it turned out, there were difficulties in getting it to self-start and the turbine could be heard almost two miles away.

  8. Powering Museums and Parks
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    Powering Museums and Parks

    This narrow turbine reaches 30 feet tall and four feet wide, making it a better choice for powering smaller structures such as homes, schools, and businesses. Windspire turbines, manufactured in Manistee, Mich., are currently operating at museums, parks, and vineyards and cost from $5,000 to $12,000, excluding the effects of federal, state, and local incentives.

  9. Vertical Windmill—With Advertising
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    Vertical Windmill—With Advertising

    On top of generating power from the wind, We Power gives advertisers a platform by letting product images be placed on the spinning vertical windmill. The generator is made to mount onto preexisting lamp poles.

  10. Quieter Rooftop Turbines
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    Quieter Rooftop Turbines

    Silent wind turbines work with the wind, rather than cutting through it, so noise is reduced. The device mechanically angles the blades according to the wind speed in order to render a consistent power supply. The silent turbine is not recommended for homes with pitched roofs, where it could be dangerous, the company says.

  11. Kite-Surfing for Power
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    Kite-Surfing for Power

    KiteNRG turbines resemble power kites used for surfing and sailing. They harvest energy at high altitude, where winds are stronger and more constant, the company says. The kites are connected to ground with cords, which could cause potential damage to surroundings if any were to snap.