Diagram of Alpha 311’s turbine, which repurposes airfl ow from passing traffi c to power street lights.
Electricity fl ows to street light.
Internal bearing collar fi ts to any size of existing street light column.
in opposite directions on either side, you can double the airspeed impacting the wind turbine. And by doing so, the volume of air available to be converted into electricity is increased by up to a factor of eight, according to Thompson.
Airfl ow from passing cars drives turbine.
Turbine catches airfl ow from any direction.
Electricity fl ows to power grid.
The power these turbines generate can be used elsewhere, of course. A 5G microcell with a 1km broadcast, for example, uses between 5–7kW of electricity per hour. However, Alpha 311 could have 28 turbines inside of a kilometre – what happens to the rest of the energy? Ideally, it’s fed back into the local grid, which helps to lower the transmission costs in the area, thereby lowering the cost of electricity. “The bulk of electricity generated by offshore wind, or even onshore wind, tends to be in more remote places, which means you’ve got to transmit it further [and] keep stepping it up to get it to where it’s needed,” Thompson explains. “But if you produce it where the demand is, you don’t have to do that – so the cost comes down.
“Energy generation itself isn’t particularly expensive to do, but transmitting it can be very expensive. If you can provide lower-cost electricity to low-income communities, you can help lift those people out of poverty.”
of solar panels according to independent research commissioned by the company. By using the infrastructure that was already in place – namely, the lighting columns themselves – Alpha 311 was able to massively reduce the cost of installing each turbine. Its initial prototypes were carbon fibre, but the Covid-19 pandemic caused problems with production, so the company went looking for alternatives and made new prototypes out of correx plastic. From there, Thompson says, they started looking at recycled plastic as a potential option.
1kW The energy
production per hour by Alpha 311’s traffi c air turbine, the equivalent to 20m2 of solar panels. Alpha 311
developed could churn out 1kW an hour, comparable with 20m2
Thompson notes that he doesn’t see Alpha 311 replacing big energy producers in any real shape or form. Instead, he wants to work alongside them, generating electricity locally in communities where it’s needed, helping the local grid and clearing congestion. This, then, could free up the bigger energy producers to serve bigger industry, which tends to have the biggest draw on local communities in any case.
He is quick to state that the technology his company came up with isn’t new – adamant about it, even – but instead the real genius in this product was achieved through the implementation of well-known science. “If you want to increase the amount of electrical energy for wind turbines, you’ve got to make it bigger. You increase the blade size, you increase the swept size, and that’s why we now have 850ft-tall wind turbines – because the blades are so long,” he says, laying out the route his company went down instead. “Or you double the airspeed impacting upon it. You can’t do that naturally, but you can if it’s in the middle of a road.” By placing a turbine in the central reservation between two dual carriageways, with cars travelling
On the right track In terms of sustainability, however, Thompson is hoping that the company’s new thermal plastic prototypes will prove to be a winner. These turbines will be a lot cheaper to produce than the company’s original carbon fibre models, made instead with recycled plastic waste and strengthened with glass fibre from recycled glass. The cost of the materials, then, goes from hundreds of pounds for carbon fibre to only £4. At the end of its life cycle, unlike its larger cousins, these turbines can simply be put into a chipper and the waste material used to produce parts of other turbines.
“The great thing is that companies are now looking at the impact,” says Thompson. “We can’t bury these [blades] in landfill. We can’t come up and burn them – it’s ridiculous.”
Initiatives like Alpha 311 may be able to help drive the effort towards greater sustainability in their own way, but it’s the larger, multinational turbine manufacturers that will need to provide the solution. But, as both Lewis and Thompson have stated, many of these companies are being proactive about this issue, and actively searching for an answer. ●
World Wind Technology / www.worldwind-technology.co
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