Wind Energy From Airports?

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According to Phoenix, Arizona resident Dick Hales, the turbulence created by commercial jets sitting on the runway waiting to take off is a prime source of wind energy, but to date no one has thought of a way to harness it.

Jets sitting on the runway pre-takeoff can create wind speeds of up to 300 miles per hour. In the United States, where about 35,000 passenger jets take off daily, from more than 900 commercial airports, the potential for harnessing this wind power represents an enormous energy advantage to airports.

But Hales is stymied on two counts. His device, which consists of a reinforced housing containing a wind turbine, flywheel, and generator, needs a prototype. And the prototype needs financing.

Of course, Hales has a patent on the idea, which involves five FreeWind units mounted in front of a blast fence (many of which are already being used at airports), with two additional baffles to make sure the turbulence is directed at the blast fence and not dissipated. The entire assembly is located perpendicular of the runway and flight path, since Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) rules prohibit obstructing either.

Hales admits some have called him “crazy”. Hales retorts by asking why so many solutions embrace the obvious (that is, the status quo, which in this case involves a wind turbine on a tower hoping to catch a breeze). Then he points to the Wright brothers’, who were also considered crazy, along with such notables as John Baird (the TV camera), Crick and Watson (DNA), Robert Folk (nanobacteria), and of course Joseph Lister, who developed the sterile technique.

Hales got his vision for using jet turbulence to create power several decades ago. Acting on the advice of colleague and noted American designer, Ray Eames – who told Hales to “create your design in terms of product or need” – Hales, also an industrial designer by trade, decided recently to see if that dream could be revived.

Hales sees his invention providing instant energy for the hundreds of electric-powered airport vehicles currently in operation, and the hundreds more being considered to curb airport emissions (and, by extension, climate change). Take, for example, MSP (Minneapolis, St. Paul International Airport) where, in 2009, Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) officials installed wind turbines to power an electric vehicle as part of the MAC’s Stewards of Tomorrow’s Airport Resources (STAR) program launched in 2008.

The device could also be used to help power lighting at various non-critical locations around the airport. Which, if you think of how much electricity the average city airport uses, day and night, makes Hales crazy like a fox.

Hales recently got a positive response from Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital in Vancouver, BC. But Hales admits he isn’t an engineer, so he is seeking a university, design group or engineering firm with a solid grasp of wind energy fundamentals and a willingness to walk on the wild side.

Hales, who taught at the University of California at Irvine, and ran his own business in Irvine from 1984 to 2000, is currently semi-retired, after a decade of teaching at Arizona State University “off and on”. He now runs another business, and is – at 64 – still willing to put everything he has into his dream.

“I’ve been in business for 40 years, and am an expert in project management. I just need to convince someone to fund my idea and work with me.”

Emphasizing the clear need to find and develop every form of clean energy available – a need highlighted by the recent heat wave in Russia (triggered, most agree, by climate change), Hales admits he is currently scrambling to find people who know enough about the technology to create a working prototype.

“In the meantime, I will just keep experimenting with cardboard and glue.” Hales chuckles.

Article by Jeanne Roberts, appearing courtesy Celsias.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • Ira

    I like the idea of a blast fence. The obstruction problem

    seems silly to me because the aircraft is not moving anyway.

    When the aircraft needs to move the blast fence is retracted

    into the ground or is made to lay flat. No more obstruction.

    The fence position could be controlled by a position sensor

    of some kind that tells it when the plane is in place. A

    light bar in the cockpit lets the pilot know when his placement

    is correct.

    Blast fences have been used on aircraft carriers for years with

    no obstruction problem. This is a proven off-the-shelf

    technology. Why not use it?

  • http://twitter.com/mansi__jain mansi__jain

    Brilliant idea! Wind energy from airplanes! How come this hasnt happened yet? http://bit.ly/9b4YVF

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Ira

    As with other alternate energy technologies the up-front

    cost of installation is a major sticking point. This

    economy doesn’t make it any better.

    This needs to be done by people who strongly believe in

    the concept and are willing and able to foot the bill.

    Also there would be many legal problems to deal with.

  • Diana

    Email me so we can chat if your still interested

    • Ira

      Get in touch by Email to continue conversation. I would be

      pleased to do so.

    • Ira

      Where can I find your Email?

  • Mike

    Dick, send me an email so we can talk… I can’t sleep thinking about this… Mike mhowley@q.com