As the world’s population continues to grow and climate change becomes a greater and greater problem, urban planners and engineers are forced to come up with increasingly creative solutions. On the one hand, the population is expected to rise to an estimated 8.25 billion people by 2030 and 9.25 by 2050, and they will need places to live. On the other, these people will require energy and basic services, and these must be provided in a way that is clean and sustainable.
One such solution is known as the Strawscaper. The brainchild of designer Rahel Belatchew Lerdel, this building would be able to provide its own electricity using only wind and a series of piezoelectric fronds that rustle in the wind. Thanks to this method, the building would get all the power it needs from wind passing through its exterior, and would therefore not need to be attached to the city grid.
In a press release by Belatchew labs, Rahel claimed that the inspiration “came from fields of wheat swaying in the wind”. He also described the building he envisions as one that would give “the impression of a body that is breathing”. Details as to how it would generate its own electricity were also described:
By using piezoelectric technology, a large number of thin straws can produce electricity merely through small movements generated by the wind. The result is a new kind of wind power plant that opens up possibilities of how buildings can produce energy.
The full plan calls for the completion of the Söder Torn, a building in Stockholm that began construction in 1997 but was forcibly scaled down after its architect, Henning Larsen, lost control of the project. Completing it at this point would involve adding an additional 14 stories, thus bringing it from 26 to 40, and adding the piezoelectric fronds to make it electrically self-sufficient.
Though piezoelectricity has never been used in this way, the concept is well understood and backed by a number of research reports. In addition, Belatchew is not the only one considering it as a possible means of generating clean energy. Over in Masdar City, a planned community in Abu Dhabi, something very similar is being proposed to suit their energy needs.
It’s known as the Windstalk, another means of generating electricity from wind without the needs for turbines. Though wind farms have long been considered an effective means of generating sustainable energy, resident living near large-scale operations have voiced concerns about the aesthetics and low-frequency vibrations they claim are generated by them. Thus, the concept of the Windstalk, created by New York design firm Atelier DNA.
The concept consists of 1,203 carbon fiber reinforced resin poles which stand 55 meters (180 feet) high and are anchored to the ground in concrete bases. The poles measure 30cm (12 in.) in diameter at the base and taper up to a diameter of 5cm (2 in.) at the top. Each pole is packed with piezoelectric ceramic discs, between which are electrodes that are connected by cables that run the length of each pole.
Thus, instead of relying on turbines to move magnets and create electrical current, each pole merely sways in the wind, compressing the stack of piezoelectric discs and generating a current through the electrodes. And just to let people know how much – if any – power the poles are generating, the top 50cm (20 in.) of each pole is fitted with an LED lamp that glows and dims relative to the amount of electrical power being generated.
As a way to maximize the amount of electricity the Windstalk farm would generate, the concept also places a torque generator within the concrete base of each pole. As the poles sway, fluid is forced through the cylinders of an array of current generating shock absorbers to convert the kinetic energy of the swaying poles into additional electrical energy. But of course, storage is also an issue, since wind power (like solar) is dependent on weather conditions.
Luckily, the designers at Atelier DNA have that covered too. Beneath a field of poles, two large chambers are located, one on top of the other. When the wind is blowing, part of the electricity generated is used to power a set of pumps that moves water from the lower chamber to the upper one. Then, when the wind dies down, the water flows from the upper chamber down to the lower chamber, turning the pumps into generators.
At the moment, the Windstalk concept, much like the Strawscaper, is still in the design phase. However, the design team estimates that the overall electricity output of the concept would be comparable to that of a conventional wind turbine array because, even though a single wind turbine that is limited to the same height as the poles may produce more energy than a single Windstalk, the Windstalks can be packed in much denser arrays.
Though by all accounts, the situation with our environment is likely to get worse before it gets better, it is encouraging to know that the means exist to build a cleaner, more sustainable future. Between now and 2050, when the worst aspects of Climate Change are expected to hit, the implementation of a better and more sustainable means of living is absolutely crucial. Otherwise, the situation will continue to get worse indefinitely, and the prospects of our survival will become bleak indeed!