Wind turbines on cars

I’ve been meaning to write this a while ago. I talked about using the Earth’s rotation to generate energy the last time. I wrote a follow up on that, and at the end of the article, I contemplated using cars to somehow generate energy.

It turns out there’s this concept of regenerative braking (thanks Figment Engine), which converts some of the kinetic energy into some useful form of energy (or try to store that kinetic energy for later use). And apparently, sports cars such as the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP are already using this.

So what else can we do? I know, let’s put windmills on them car tops! When the car moves, there’s wind moving over it! Put wind turbines to capture that energy. Brilliant! Maybe we could just put a small wind turbine at the tail end of the car so that drag is reduced. Here’s the concept art:

Wind turbines on cars

Well, apparently, that’s already old news and the concept’s already patented. *sigh*

What if we place solar panels on the car too? That works even when the car’s stationary.

What if we attach dynamos around the wheels (as I suggested in my earlier article)? It doesn’t create drag, and the wheels are turning anyway, so we might as well use it to generate electricity.

I think the biggest problem isn’t generating the (electrical) energy. It’s storing or converting that energy to a usable form.

I remember hearing something from a cartoon movie once. The character (an animal creature but I forgot what it was) was talking about humans being the only creatures to need a huge machine to move just one human. Henry Ford had revolutionised transportation by making cars affordable. Now we need another revolution to make cars sustainable.

Wind plus geometric objects equals fun

I was bored then. Back when I was a young boy, I was flipping through my favourite math encyclopedia book, and there was a section on geometric objects.

There were pages illustrating the outlines of the simpler geometric objects such as the tetrahedron, the cube and the octahedron. This meant I could trace the outlines on paper, cut them out, fold accordingly, and I would have the geometric objects in my hand, in 3D. Totally awesome.

Geometric objects
[The name card holder is there to give perspective on the actual size of the objects. No, I didn’t keep the old ones. Those are newly cut and folded.]

So I was happily cutting and folding papers, and the Singapore weather being it’s hot usual self, forced me to position an electric fan aimed at me so I could be cooled. The completed geometric objects, being their feather-light selves, started flying all over the place. A light bulb kringed.

“Can I direct the wind so the objects move in a particular direction?”

Alright, perhaps my young mind didn’t form such a profoundly complicated question. I think I just reacted. I took a few more books from the encyclopedia set and arranged them to form my fake wind tunnel.

Fake wind tunnel floor plan
[I didn’t actually used clips to hold the pages down back then. The books were pretty well read, so the pages were pliable, so they conformed well to the book being split apart.]

The idea was to create a “valley” for the geometric objects to fly through, powered by my industrious little electric fan. It’s very exciting to see the objects fly out at the end of the tunnel.

Fake wind tunnel

There were some points to take note. First, wind power. I couldn’t form too long a tunnel with the books, because the wind wasn’t strong enough. I found I could make better use of the wind if I covered the top with another book (I didn’t use the clips then, so the top was level). That gave me another book length of fun.

I also found the type of object to be significant. I mean, can you imagine a pyramid-shape flying along? The wind would just flow upwards on its sides. The cube did better. But it was the octahedron that was the winner.

Out of the shapes I made, I was able to create objects of up to 8 sides. I might have created a 12-sided one, but I can’t remember. The difficulty was in the sticking of edges. With more sides, it’s harder to ensure the edge flaps stick to the inside of the object. With the tetrahedron, I could “squeeze” the edges to make them stick better. If I did that with a dodecahedron, the object will crumple.

Anyway, it makes sense. The more sides the object has, the more spherical it becomes. And we know how spheres love rolling along.

So the best setup I had was to place the fan really close to the entrance of my wind tunnel (to minimise escape of wind energy), place a couple of books over the top (to minimise escape of wind energy, but not completely so I could see the action), dump a few cubes and octahedrons (because they were the better flyers/rollers), and watch the little coloured critters fly out at the end. Absolute entertainment.

So that’s what I amused myself when I was a child. What did you do?