A Breath of Fresh Air

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Imagine a leisurely day spent sitting in a beautiful park, surrounded by nothing more than lush grass, the chirping of birds, and the calming sound of the breeze rustling through the canopies of the trees surrounding you. Though the setting may be man-made, it nevertheless inspires a sense of connection with the natural world and its many wonders. It is those same wonders that offer us opportunities to learn on a daily basis. There is knowledge to be gained in everything from the ant’s work ethic to the simple rustling of leaves in the wind!

Thankfully, the engineers at Cornell University were listening intently to nature’s call.

They have developed a design called Vibro-Wind. It is a frame equipped with 25 pads that, when even a slight breeze passes through them, swing back and forth in a continuous rhythm to create electricity. This energy can then be harnessed to power the needs of an individual building or an entire city. The beauty of this amazing design is that the pads can behave like solar panels in the sense that they can be made small enough to install on rooftops, in parks, and virtually anywhere else there is a bit of space in a densely populated setting.

The next question would be: How does this change anything? Don’t we already have wind turbines hard at work providing green energy?

The problem with modern wind turbine designs is that they are big, noisy, and not to mention dangerous to airborne life forms! Their size prevents them from being viable for installation in urban settings. Even if there were spaces available, once installed many would complain about the noise the turbines produce. Consequently they are installed in undeveloped natural habitats, taking up more land that could be better put to use. Their spinning blades, though engineered to make the most of wind currents to provide maximum energy, pose a threat to any flying creature, further impacting the natural environment.

Cornell University’s Vibro-Wind addresses many of these issues; they are small enough to be installed in cities and suburbs, don’t contribute to noise pollution, are air-critter friendly, and, best of all, they’re inexpensive! It is an excellent example of bio-inspired thinking in action.

Now, don’t let this antagonize wind turbines for you, because in comparison to conventional power plants, their environmental impact is microscopic. Instead, this is meant to shed light on weaknesses in modern green designs so we may continue seeking further ways to improve. So let this be a sign of hope that, though our world is good now, we are still pursuing (and attaining) a better future!

Javier Banuelos is a volunteer with the San Diego Zoo’s biomimicry programs.

Visit the biomimicry section of our Web site.