Is this odd-looking wind turbine the most efficient you can buy?

June 10

This isn’t your father’s wind turbine. (The Archimedes)

When it comes to producing wind energy, three-blade propeller turbine systems have been the gold standard for so long, they’ve become boring. Sure, engineers have put forth their fair share of alternate designs, but nothing has proven to be quite as efficient.

They aren’t perfect either, however. Despite unmatched rotational speeds upwards of up to 200 mph, taking full advantage of the elements requires that the turbines be positioned directly into the face of the current. So while such systems generally make sense for offshore wind farms, they’re not as practical in surroundings where winds are far less predictable.

The Archimedes, a Dutch-based tech firm, says that its Liam F1 Urban Wind Turbine can do for your home what these towering structures have done for the electric grid and turn as much as 80 percent of harness-able energy from wind into electricity, a conversion rate on par with the world’s top performing systems. What’s more, it’s claimed to be much quieter, relatively compact and more affordable than competing technologies. The turbine’s also designed to one-up conventional windmills with its ability to capture wind coming in from multiple directions.

(The Archimedes)
(The Archimedes)

Conceptually, the Liam F1 works similar to other horizontal axis power generators and features a front-facing rotor to take advantage of lift. But instead of airplane-inspired wing blades, the design takes after the Archimedes screw pump, a helix-patterned pipe used in ancient Greece to pump water up from a deeper source. Opting for a blade that fans out from the front to back in the shape of a cone-like spiral allows it to swivel and collect gusts that enter at angles as wide as 60 degrees from the axis.

“With regular turbines, efficiency may sometimes drop depending on the angle of wind,” says Marinus Mieremet, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer. “But the way ours is designed, it’s able to catch the wind head-on, whatever direction it blows, by automatically adjusting for the optimal wind position, sort of like a weather vane.”

Field tests, conducted in collaboration with Pusan University in South Korea, demonstrated that, given average wind speeds of 5 meters a second, the device can yield up to 1,500 kilowatt-hours a year, enough to supply about a third to half the electricity a typical home consumes. Mind you, he’s basing the estimate on the average usage of those living in the Netherlands. On average, Americans have residential footprints in the range of 11,000 kilowatt-hours.

And not having spacing between blades, he adds, also makes the structure a lot less susceptible to the kind of vibrations and turbulence responsible for what some who’ve resided near wind have reported to be turbine-induced noise pollution. “Measurements of noise levels near the turbine show a reading of about 42 decibels,” he says. “That’s quieter than the sound of people talking.”

If anything, Mieremet, a former financial analyst who’s spent the last 11 years collaborating with Korean scientists to develop the technology, has done his own meticulous calculations to come up with a list of compelling statistics that he believes potential customers will find persuasive. He contends, for instance, that while competing systems take about 28 years to make back the investment; his product should achieve the same in less than half the time.

Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California Berkeley and climate advisor to the Obama administration, says that, based on his initial impressions, Mieremet’s design looks promising, though he noted that previous attempts at developing a good alternative haven’t always panned out. “Yes, this design can work, but it isn’t a exactly a new concept,” Kammen says. “But what makes each effort interesting and unique is that materials change and computational programs change so people can continue to test and try out different versions. The trick, though, is having commercial products that are in the market and selling.”

Since finalizing a production version of the Liam F1, Mieremet says he’s received around 7,000 orders, 35 of which have been set up for residential buildings in Spain, the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands. He’s also been batting around the idea of scaling up the technology to build a 20-foot industrial version as he prepares for the company’s official product launch, slated for July 1. The Liam F1 is expected to sell for €3,999 (about $5,450).

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Matt McFarland | June 9