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New micro-windmills blow scientists away

By Emma Brodey

A micro-windmill contrasted in size with an Abraham Lincoln penny (photo credit

With regrettably anthropogenic climate change on the rise and its effects noticeable in the extreme weather of the last year, the search is hotter than ever for clean and efficient energy sources. This quest has led to new and exciting technologies, including wind-powered cell phones. The University of Texas at Arlington has developed a new kind of micro-turbine with interesting potential. These turbines are small enough that ten can fit on one grain of rice, and effective enough that researchers think that they have the potential blow away competition in the field wind-power technology. In a few years, a quick wand-like swish through the air will be enough to charge a mobile phone for the day.

The micro-windmills (properly called horizontal axis wind turbines) were developed by professor J.C. Chiao and Smitha Rao at the University of Texas at Arlington. Their technology has already attracted the attention of WinMEMS, a large company in Taiwan. The company is interested in having Chiao and Rao brainstorm new device designs with them involving the new technology.

“The company was quite surprised with the micro-windmill idea when we showed the demo video of working devices,” Rao said in an interview with Science Daily. “It was something completely out of the blue for them and their investors.”

Because the wind turbine market has been focused on gigantic turbines of late, the micro-turbine was a very surprising development. Most attempts at turbines on a smaller scale have failed because their materials were too brittle, and Chiao and Rao attribute their success largely to their better choice of metal.

“The micro-windmills work well because the metal alloy is flexible and [Rao]’s design follows minimalism for functionality,” Chiao said in an interview with Science Daily.

Wind-powered cell phones are only the beginning of the possible uses of Chiao and Rao’s micro-windmills.

“These inventions are essential to build micro-robots that can be used as surgical tools, sensing machines to explore disaster zones or manufacturing tools to assemble micro-machines,” the UT-Arlington said to RedOrbit News.

“[It is] gratifying to first be noticed by an international company and second to work on something like this where you can see immediately how it might be used,” Rao said to RedOrbit News. “However, I think we’ve only scratched the surface on how these micro-windmills might be used.”

This new field in micro-windmills could be a major influence in the future of clean energy and of technology in general.

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