SheerWind is a Chaska, Minn.-based startup with a wind power generator concept that looks nothing like any wind turbine you have ever seen. The venture’s “Invelox” technology recently won the 2011 CleanTech Open’s Sustainability Award for the North Central Region. SheerWind’s founder and CEO, Daryoush Allaei, has 25 years of research and development experience, including leading projects funded by the U.S. departments of Defense and Energy.
Interestingly, his technical expertise is not in wind power, or even renewable energy, but in systems dynamics–specifically, noise and vibration. He first developed the idea for Invelox in late 2008, while working on a proposal for a project to monitor wind turbine vibration, in response to a Department of Energy solicitation.
“DOE wanted a technology that could monitor the vibration of the [wind turbine] blades, to help them manage wind energy more cost-effectively,” Allaei said to us in a recent interview. “When I was reviewing what they were asking for, I just thought, ‘Wow! They are trying to solve the wrong problem.’ They were asking me to go 60 to 100 feet up in the air, when what I really needed to do was bring [the cost of wind energy] down for them. I thought something had to change. So I closed my door and I sat down and thought about what else we could do that makes more sense. That’s how I came up with this idea of harvesting wind on the ground.”
The result is what to looks to be a pretty novel approach to generating wind power. Allaei’s “Invelox” technology (named for increasing velocity) looks more like a giant phonograph player than a wind turbine. Essentially, it works by capturing wind, funneling it into a tunnel to increase velocity, and channeling it into a ground-based turbine.
Allaei typically describes the system by comparing it to a hydroelectric dam:
“If you look at a hydro dam, the basic principle is to collect water and then, down below there are small openings where the water is allowed to escape. By simple physics, when you do that, the water speeds up. It is in that small opening in dams where the generator is placed. The generator is small, but it makes a very large amount of power because the water is moving very fast through that small opening. Invelox is basically an air dam that collects wind instead of water.”