In the relatively short history of the automobile, gas powered cars have dominated the market. The wind powered car, the solar powered car, and others have not been as successful. The internal combustion engine was invented during the industrial revolution and, since then, we’ve been using it to power lots and lots of things that keep our society going. However, what we didn’t realize when we were inventing the combustion engine over 100 years ago is that burning gasoline, which comes from fossil fuels, creates a lot harmful emissions. There is a lot of debate over the effect of emissions on the environment, but a significant percentage of scientists agree that we are polluting our air and our water by burning the amount of fossil fuels that we are burning. We may also be causing our planet to heat up, which could upset the balance of our climate. If the earth’s climate were to shift even slightly, large portions of the planet may suddenly become uninhabitable for humans. This would, understandably, be devastating.
Another issue we have with using cars powered by gasoline is that fossil fuels are a finite resource. We don’t have infinite oil. At some point, we are going to run out, because we are using the resource faster than we can replace it. Our society is very dependent on cars for transportation, and many modes of public transportation also currently use gasoline for power. In order to meet the growing need for transportation, we will have to find alternative means of power. We need to find ways to make things “go” that don’t use finite, non-renewable resources. This means, it’s time for us to turn to renewable resources. It’s time for us to seriously consider the wind powered car.
What Is Wind Power?
Wind power is the process of creating electricity, or powering a car, using the air flow that occurs naturally in the earth’s atmosphere. Generally, wind turbines are used to harness kinetic energy from the wind and generate power. In the wind powered car, the turbines are smaller and built into the body of the car. There are 3 types of wind energy:
This type of wind power uses very large turbines that are placed offshore, near the continental shelf. Because they are large and far out at sea, they can generate a lot of power.
This uses turbines that can generate 100 kilowatts to megawatts of power. These turbines are generally used to create power for electric utilities.
Distributed or “Small” Wind
This type uses small turbines to directly power a home or a small business. They are not part of a grid.
How Does It Work?
When wind moves turbines, the blades capture kinetic energy. The action of turning the blades turns that kinetic energy into mechanical energy. The rotating blades turn a shaft connect to a gearbox. The gearbox spins a generator to make electricity.
What Does a Turbine Look Like?
Turbines are generally at least 250 feet tall and attached to a steel tower. A hub holds 3 blades, and the “nacelle” holds the shaft, the gearbox, the generator, and the controls. The turbines measure the wind and turn themselves into the strongest wind. The blades are pitched to capture the most energy.
How Much Wind Does It Need?
Typically, the wind must be blowing at least 6 to 9 miles per hour to generate power. If the wind speed increases above 55 miles per hour, the turbines will shut down.
How Much Power Is Produced?
In a year, a wind turbine will generally produce power about 90 percent of the time. The faster the wind, the greater the production. Production from turbines is measured in a “Capacity Factor.” If a turbine has the ability to produce 18,000 megawatt-hours, but the wind only blew hard enough to produce 8,000 megawatt-hours, then the capacity factor is 45 percent. Generally, wind farms have capacity factors higher than 40 percent and are on par with coal or natural gas plants.
Windmills vs. Wind Turbines
A windmill and a wind turbine are not the same thing. A windmill uses the wind to produce mechanical energy to do a specific job, like grind grain. A wind turbine turns the mechanical energy into electricity.
What Is a Wind Farm?
A wind farm is a large group of turbines built together to generate electricity for a power plant.
How Is Wind Energy Distributed?
Once the energy is generated, it heads to the power plant and is sent to consumers as electricity in the same way as any other type of energy.
Would a Wind Powered Car Work?
Wind powered cars have already been designed and tested, and they do work. Generally, turbines are built into the outside of the car and use vents to channel air toward the turbines. Most wind powered cars also need another power source for startup and to provide longer drive times. To stay environmentally friendly, most use solar power as the alternate energy source. Some use electricity and need to be recharged at home or at a charging station. These are the pros and cons of a wind powered car:
The other problems with wind powered cars at this point are making them go fast enough for the highway and making sure they provide enough hours of drive time. For perpetual use, you would need a relatively sunny environment to keep the solar panels charging and enough wind to drive the turbines when in motion. There are still some design kinks to work out, as well as the need to bring the costs down. As with any new technology, the startup costs can sometimes be prohibitive. However, for the future of the planet we’re going to leave our children, we need to find solutions to these problems. As we find better ways to answer these questions, wind powered cars are definitely an option for the future.
Current Designs of Wind Powered Cars
There are a few wind powered cars on the market right now. They are not widely sold or used, but they are demonstrating great strides in technology. Here are a few examples of what’s out there in wind powered cars.
“Mirai” means “future” in Japanese. It is currently one of only 28 fuel cell cars on the road in the UK. Its hydrogen cells are generated by the wind power. This model is capable of 37 miles per gallon and can go about 340 miles once fully charged.
This wind powered car was built in 2008 by German students. It had a wind turbine on top and ran on 3 wheels. It isn’t very fast, but it was the first truly wind powered car.
Some argue that this is actually the first wind powered car. It’s a hybrid that also uses electric power. The turbine is outside the car for better results. While in motion, the turbine charges the battery, thereby producing its own electricity. This was the first vehicle to place the turbine on the outside of the vehicle. The car is the creation of Tang Zhengping, who wanted to try and reduce the emissions in China, his native country. The car can reach 90 mph and the batteries need to be recharged every 2-3 days.
This is a wind powered car with 4 electric motors. Its purpose is to making racing not just about speed, but about energy efficiency and utilizing natural resources. It’s quoted to have, “The thrill of Formula One, the track dynamics of the bobsled or luge, and the grace and efficiency of yacht racing.”
At the rate we are using our natural resources like coal and oil, it is imperative that we find alternative fuel sources over the next century. One very viable energy source is wind power, and wind powered cars. We need transportation. We live in a global economy, and we need to be able to travel. Our goal should be to make that travel easy on the environment and our wallets. Putting funds into research for better wind powered cars is an excellent step in this direction. With a little more work, wind powered cars could be one of the future methods of transportation. Or, we may see more and more vehicles that combine wind and solar power. We will have to change our expectations slightly, as clean energy cars don’t have the same sound and feel as gasoline powered cars. We have a lot of memories and nostalgia mixed in with how we feel about our cars, especially as Americans. And we should preserve that history. The era of gasoline powered vehicles was an important step in our industrial history. However, we have to move on to more sustainable ways of getting around. By embracing wind powered cars, even with their differences, we will make a huge difference in the future of our planet.