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How tiny windmills could one day power your phone

Posting in Technology

 

microwindmill-penny.jpg
There is no shortage of innovative, odd, and sustainable ways scientists are developing to charge your cell phone. But the latest development might just top all the lists.

The idea: Power your phones with windmills. 

If you're thinking that's impossible, you're thinking too big. Try micro-windmills. Researchers at the University of Texas-Arlington have developed a windmill so small that ten 1.8 millimeter-wide micro-windmills could fit on a single grain of rice.

The researchers behind the device say that hundreds of the tiny windmills could be placed on a sleeve which would cover a phone and generate electricity with minimal effort, placing it in front of an open window or waving it in the air.  


According to Forbes, the iPhone 4 could fit 2,040 micro-windmills on its surface. 

Smitha Rao, one of the designers of the tiny windmills, says that the use of nickel alloy means the micro-windmills hold up well against artificial wind. That's not always the case with micro systems. 

"The problem most MEMS [microelectromechanical systems] designers have is that materials are too brittle," Rao said. "With the nickel alloy, we don’t have that same issue. They’re very, very durable."

The other benefit, they're cheap to make, according to the university:

The micro-windmills can be made in an array using the batch processes. The fabrication cost of making one device is the same as making hundreds or thousands on a single wafer, which enables for mass production of very inexpensive systems.

And it's already caught the attention of one company, Taiwan-based WinMEMS Technologies, which has developed a partnership with the university to explore opportunities to commercialize the technology.

Still, the technology is only in its early stages.

"I think we’ve only scratched the surface on how these micro-windmills might be used," said Rao.



— By on January 13, 2014, 1:40 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure