Ancient sailors used sails to capture the wind's power, windmills were once used by farmers to grind their grains and pump water, and as the world moves toward a hopefully greener future, humanity's longstanding relationship with the wind has taken the form of wind turbines.
Today, taking that a step further, a Halifax startup is putting renewable energy into the pockets of explorers.
"Our mission is to provide clean energy independence," says Aurea Technologies Inc.'s Founder and CEO Cat Adalay, in a written statement to Interesting Engineering. Their Shine Turbine, a 3-pound, 40-watt wind turbine that can charge handheld electronics, is the first of a series of renewable power devices designed by the startup to provide freedom from the electrical grid.
As you might expect, it is also the result of years of hard labor, as well as her and her team’s passion for sustainable energy. The startup was founded by Adalay in 2017, who was first struck by the harrowing reality of climate change after seeing Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth in high school. "As I went on to study engineering I realized that technology and innovation in renewable energy and microgrid systems would play a key and crucial role in helping address climate change," she explains.
This realization, along with her technical background and love of the outdoors, led her to discover the untapped potential of wind power in our daily lives.
At first, she began to develop a wind energy system for residential applications, but upon the arrival of Rachel Carr, CMO of Aurea Technologies Inc., that prototype was scaled down to create the Shine Turbine.
The engineering challenges
Shine operates in the same principle as the massive wind turbines that mark our rural landscapes, but on a much smaller scale for personal usage. Not only it can readily power gadgets like phones, tablets, lights, and cameras, but it can also generate and store electricity quickly in various weather conditions.
It has the battery capacity for four full phone charges and can collapse into about the size of a 1,000 mL water bottle, making it perfect for backpackers. "Shine’s major differentiator is its ability to rapidly create and store power while being compact and lightweight," Adalay states.
The team had to overcome several engineering challenges to get its design right since there were many variables contradicting each other. It had to be durable enough to use as an outdoor product but also lightweight and compact to be easily carried around, and also efficient enough to generate lots of power. This all meant it had to be highly engineered.
The wind is quite efficient when it comes to generating energy quickly since it has a cubic relationship with power. When wind speeds double, power output increases eightfold, and when you combine this with Shine's patent-pending technology (high-efficiency blades and lightweight design), you get yourself a wind charger that can provide the most energy for the least amount of weight.
Shine’s blade and nacelle design makes it stand out since it decreases drag to boost power production while allowing the blades to fold into the turbine’s body.
Wind vs. Solar
But why choose wind when you can tap into the Sun's power with a solar panel? "Quite simply, Shine provides far more power for weight carried when compared to any portable power solution - including solar. The turbine’s power to weight ratio is 13.3 watts per pound (W/lb). This is almost double the industry-leading solar panel’s, which is 6.8 W/lb when including an accompanying battery pack that is the equivalent of Shine’s," Adalay explains.
At this size, these solar panels are only about 5 to 10 percent efficient, especially if the Sun is not directly above the panel, according to Adalay. Let's say it's cloudy or it's nighttime; in those scenarios, solar panel's efficiency is going to decrease dramatically. On the other hand, Shine can provide energy at any time of day, with a wind speed range of 8 to 28 mph.
The turbine's sustainability promises are also employed in its background processes. The startup has prioritized purchasing as many parts locally as possible to help reduce its carbon footprint. Moreover, up to 85 percent of Shine's parts can be recycled when it reaches its end of life, and its packaging is 100 percent recyclable and plastic-free.
Shine is ready for production, and Aurea is crowdfunding the turbine in a Kickstarter campaign, with an early bird price of $240, a 40 percent savings off the usual price. The campaign will run until a total of $50,000 has been raised.