Power Your Home From a French Wind Tree, Inventor Inspired by Fluttering Leaves




A French inventor plans to plant ‘Wind Trees’ around towns and cities in France to harness the energy in leaf-rustling breezes, which he says can power a home.

Jérôme Michaud-Larivière's Wind Tree costs a mere 29,500 euros, but you buy just a few leaves if you prefer.

Jérôme Michaud-Larivière’s Wind Tree costs a mere 29,500 euros, but you can buy just a few leaves if you prefer.

Jérôme Michaud-Larivière whose “l’Arbre à vent” developed by the Parisian start-up firm NewWind will come to market in 2015, says his prototype (see image below) was inspired by tree leaves.

“The idea came to me one day when I was standing in a square watching the leaves rustling on the trees when there was not a breath of air around me.” Clearly this was energy “coming from somewhere and if that was the case it could be harnessed and turned into watts, ” he told the French news agency AFP.

The wind trees, M Michaud-Larivière hastens to add, are absolutely silent, unlike widely-contested wind turbines polluting the horizons across France. “The wind blades are housed inside the leaves and turn in the breeze – regardless of its direction – avoiding any shear effects”, he said. Being smaller and designed to resemble a tree they are also more aesthetically acceptable, he added.

Jérôme Michaud-Larivière inventor of the Wind Tree shows the leaves sold separately

Jérôme Michaud-Larivière inventor of the Wind Tree shows the leaves sold separately

After three years of research, a team of engineers working with the inventor has developed an 8m tall prototype now set up at the Cité des télécoms in Pleumeur-Bodou (Côtes d’Armor) 520 kms west of Paris where it attracts curious stares from visitors and residents.

The integrated mini-turbine generators, staggered to capture the slightest air flow, turn when air flow attains 2 metres/second compared to 4 metres/second for conventional turbines, increasing the number of days a wind tree – power rated between 2.5 and 3.5 kWh – can generate electricity, said Jérôme Michaud-Larivière.

He said his wind tree – not yet tested by an independent laboratory – will be economically viable with an average air flow of 3.5 metres/second over a 12-month period.

Prototype wind tree installed at City Pleumeur-Bodou (Côtes d’Armor)

The aim of the wind trees is to capture the small reservoirs of wind power represented by low-lying air currents flowing along the sides of buildings and down town streets to feed, for example, 20 Led street lamps, a charging station for electrical cars or a well-insulated four-person household. Certainly ” wind is more constant at a height of 50 metres but it results in monstrous machines”, located far from consumption centres, he said.

The installed power capacity average for a wind turbine in France in 2013 was 2.3 MW, according to France’s Renewable Energy Union.

Mr. Michaud-Larivière says because the wind trees can be located much closer to the end consumer, there is no power loss in transmission. Combined with other means of power generation such as photovoltaic, geothermal, proper building insulation and “responsible” consumption, “this solution has relevance in the wind energy solutions on offer,” he said.

However the Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME- l’Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie) remains sceptical, maintaining the potential of small wind turbines in urban areas remains “low”. The Wind Tree operates in a way similar to the resources of a classic small urban wind turbine (…), a resource that is not of top quality,” said Robert Bellini, a renewable energy network service engineer at ADEME.

“Experiences to date with small wind turbines shows that in general there is a tendency for these to fall below target performance,” he said. The breakeven point for such generation is 5 kwH.

Furthermore the proposed price of a Wind Tree (29,500 euros excluding taxes) will make it largely inaccessible to individuals. But the inventor maintained homeowners “could install a few of the tree leaves, on rooftops for example, at a lower cost”.

Jérôme Michaud-Larivière's Wind Tree inspired by watching how leaves flutter in the breeze

Jérôme Michaud-Larivière’s Wind Tree inspired by watching how leaves flutter in the breeze

Some 21 trees have already been pre-sold, mainly to local authorities and large companies, and a demonstration unit is due to be installed on the Place de la Concorde in Paris in the course of this year he said.

According to Jérôme Michaud-Larivière the concept will be further developed over the next two years to turn it into the “perfect tree”, made from a wooden trunk with leaves manufactured from natural fibres. “Its leaves will capture energy from the breezes, its roots will tap geothermal sources of power while its bark — covered with low-cost photosensitive Grätzel cells or photon energy — will convert light sources into energy he concluded.

Story: Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

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