Working in Haiti, Shawn Frayne, a then 28-year-old inventor based in Mountain View, Calif., saw the need for small-scale wind power to juice LED lamps and radios in the homes of the poor. Conventional wind turbines don’t scale down well—there’s too much friction in the gearbox and other components. So he took a new route, studying the way vibrations caused by the wind led to the collapse in 1940 of Washington’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge (aka Galloping Gertie). Frayne recognized that instead of kerosene lamps, white LEDs powered by a very inexpensive wind generator might be able to get better light homes and schools in the area. Initially however, when Shawn tried to design this affordable, turbine-based wind generator, he realized that turbine technology is too inefficient at the scales he intended to be a viable option. These constraints of cost and local manufacture led to a new invention, the world’s first turbine-less wind generator.
Frayne’s device, which he calls a Windbelt, is a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils. Prototypes have generated 40 milliwatts in 10-mph slivers of wind, making his device 10 to 30 times as efficient as the best microturbines. Though Frayne’s business model relies on licensing his clean tech innovation to the United States, China, and other large nations, the Windbelt was conceived with the developing world in mind. Frayne envisions the Windbelt costing a few dollars and replacing kerosene lamps in Haitian homes.
Today, Frayne continues to explore clean energy alternatives through his companies Humdinger Wind Energy, LLC and Haddock Invention. Recent projects include the Solar Pocket Factory, a small machine that could enable local, cost-effective production of micro solar panels.