Apple's wind turbine technology uses heat, not rotational energy to generate electricity

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
In a rare non-computing related patent filing discovered on Thursday, Apple proposes a wind turbine that generates electricity from converting heat energy rather than rotational energy created by the rotation of the unit's blades.

Wind Turbine
Source: USPTO


While Apple is best known for inventing, and patenting, technology for computers and mobile electronics, the company also dabbles in seemingly radical ideas for an OEM. Such is the case with a an application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the "On-demand generation of electricity from stored wind energy," an invention wholly dedicated to solving problems of variability associated with the alternative energy production method.

The application, filed for in June 2011, notes that most contemporary wind turbines convert kinetic energy from wind into mechanical energy, or in some cases electricity. Basic windmill technology is well known: wind energy is asserted on a mill's sails or blades and is converted into rotational energy through a drive shaft, which then powers machinery or, more recently, electric generators. It is apparent that the process is dependent on a steady supply of wind which, as Apple's filing notes, is highly variable.

To mitigate these inconsistencies, the filing proposes a system that converts rotational energy from the turbine into heat, which is then stored in a "low-heat-capacity" fluid. From storage, heat can be selectively transferred to a "working fluid" that is used to generate electricity during lulls in wind activity.

In some embodiments, heat is generated from the friction created between blades connected to the rotor shaft and the low-heat-capacity fluid, such as mercury, ethanol or an inert gas, in which they are immersed. Thermal energy is stored in an insulated vessel. A thermally insulating component like a radiator or conductive rod can be used to selectively transfer heat from the low-heat-capacity fluid to the working based on electrical demand. Finally, the working fluid boils and creates steam which rotates a turbine connected to an electric generator.

Heat Transfer
Heat from the low-heat-capacity fluid (110) stored in the thermally insulating vessel (202)
is transfered to the working fluid (114) through a thermally conductive component (204).


According to the patent application, the "on-demand" electric generation system can reduce costs associated with natural variations in wind supply. Further, the method can be used as a replacement for current conventional energy storage methods such as batteries.

Whether Apple plans to deploy such a wind turbine system is unclear, but Cupertino is investing heavily in alternative energy sources like solar and natural gas "energy servers," as seen at the company's Maiden, N.C. data center.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 40


    Heat Energy is a form of Kinetic Energy.

  • Reply 2 of 40
    thedbathedba Posts: 475member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mdriftmeyer View Post


    Heat Energy is a form of Kinetic Energy.



    Wrong you are my friend. A quick lookup in Wikipedia provides us with this.


     


    The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.[1] It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes. The same amount of work is done by the body in decelerating from its current speed to a state of rest.


     


    Whereas what is described here is more related to thermodynamics.


     


    Heat flow from high to low temperature occurs spontaneously, and is always accompanied by an increase in entropy. In a heat engineinternal energy of bodies is harnessed to provide useful work.

  • Reply 3 of 40
    ronboronbo Posts: 669member
    It's still using the rotational energy. It's just converting that to heat and storing it that way.
  • Reply 4 of 40
    Heat energy is not kinetic energy. It is potential energy in that it has no inertia. You must be thinking about the molecular level which doesn't apply in Thermodynamics.
  • Reply 5 of 40
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,510member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by russiancommie View Post



    Heat energy is not kinetic energy. It is potential energy in that it has no inertia. You must be thinking about the molecular level which doesn't apply in Thermodynamics.


     


    Thermodynamics add a level of abstraction to the uncalculable physics underneath. So heat energy is in reality just a form of kinetic energy.

  • Reply 6 of 40
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    This doesn't sound like it would be very efficient - certainly not as efficient as converting the wind energy into electricity.
  • Reply 7 of 40
    Wow... That would be at least a 15% efficiency penalty, worse with any significant temperature gradient in the heat exchanger, or if they were relying on dry bulb ambient rather than evaporative cooling.

    But, in market terms I am sure you would end up better off. Some of the wind farms actually pay the utilities to take their energy at peak wind periods, so storage can help increase the price per kWh you earn. The efficiency penalty is likely comparable to grid scale sodium-sulphur batteries...

    The real innovation would to be to combine this with the heat for the sodium sulphur batteries though, so you operate the batteries with near-zero losses and have combined thermal and chemical energy storage. Or, put a reasonable energy consumer in close proximity to the wind farm that keeps the energy off the utility grid.
  • Reply 8 of 40
    ajmasajmas Posts: 556member
    Variability exists in both use of electricity and production of electricity. This addresses the issue of where more electricity is being produced than consumed. Storage of electricity is generally a weak part of modern designs. Maybe this is better than the alternatives.
  • Reply 9 of 40
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    If there goal is to convert heat into electricity they have plenty of machines producing a lot of heat, namely their NC data center.
  • Reply 10 of 40


    It makes me worry that Apple is unsophisticated enough to chase the myths of green energy.  All such concepts produce at least ten times the release of heat into the environment as that of simply burning fuel at the wheels.  Please check where the wall plugs are in these magical schemes.

  • Reply 11 of 40
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    It makes me worry that Apple is unsophisticated enough to chase the myths of green energy.  All such concepts produce at least ten times the release of heat into the environment as that of simply burning fuel at the wheels.  Please check where the wall plugs are in these magical schemes.

    What do you suggest? Nice clean coal?
  • Reply 12 of 40
    gustavgustav Posts: 824member
    Ha ha, laugh at the green power naysayers. As if the first gasoline engine was as efficient as today's engines. The naysayers are expecting perfection on the first iteration. You have to learn to walk before you can run.
  • Reply 13 of 40
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,922member


    I would imagine that conventional wind turbines give off a fair bit of heat anyway (friction from moving parts). If that waste heat could be captured and stored for later use it would increase the overall efficiency of wind turbines while also reducing the variability of supply. 


     


    I wonder if there's any aspect of what Apple is doing here that would support a combined system like that...

  • Reply 14 of 40
    It makes me worry t...
    I was surprised that they did the PV in Maiden, and I am surprised that they went for the Bloom boxes at all, but today assuming flat energy prices these investments have a 5% ROI. A savings account doesn't give you that, and the upside potential is for a significantly higher ROI. Financially, the investments they are making seem justifiable. The bloom boxes seem most suspect, since they rely on cheap natural gas for a 7-10 year horizon.

    Researching ways to improve things is a natural by-product of investing. Storing energy is hard; you have chemical, kinetic, potential, and thermal energy storage mechanisms, and they all have challenges. Matching consumption to production is even harder, unless consumption is buffered by some energy storage mechanism such as a hot water tank or batteries in equipment. Smart grid approaches such as staging devices to enforce diversity assumptions have limited benefit above the substation level.
  • Reply 15 of 40
    This is probably for their Data Centers and the future assembly line in the United States.
  • Reply 16 of 40

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    What do you suggest? Nice clean coal?


    The US doesn't even know how to build one, so that's moot. (China builds one of those -- oxymoron noted! -- every couple of weeks).

  • Reply 17 of 40
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,803member
    Sadly I see this as more poorly bought out garbage that will end up destroying the natural environment we no live in. Just imagine if everybody was so damn willing to ear up acre as of land for solar farms the way Apple has been doing, we wouldn't have a green spot left on earth much less a habit that can support wildlife.

    Sooner or later people need to wake up and embrace newer nuclear technologies. In the end it is the only way to leave behind the negative impacts of current generation techniques. Apple would be far better off using a few of its billions to research advanced nuclear techniques than to waste more of our natural environment on this crap.

    As a side note this simply might be Apple helping out one of its designers/engineers with a personal idea or project which is actually cool. Navigating the patent system isn't all that fun nor easy, so if Apple helps out one of their employees so that they get a bit of personal satisfaction, I'm all for it. After all being able to say you have your name on a patent is a bit rewarding.
  • Reply 18 of 40
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,803member
    I laugh at the ignorance of the green power supporters and their willingness to trash our environment so completely for the rest of us. Green power is so inefficient that you would end up covering most of the planet trying to maintain industrial capacity. For many of us the ability to enjoy the natural world is important part of our life. Consider for a moment the land area wasted for Apples solar farm and imagine every factory installing similar systems. Let's face it solar panels are a poor replacement for trees and wildlife.

    By the way I'm not against the idea of solar energy, I'm against the senseless waste of land mass in the way Apple has approached solar energy at its data centers. Such systems should be integrated into the buildings themselves. Apple has set a very poor example at their data centers.
    gustav wrote: »
    Ha ha, laugh at the green power naysayers. As if the first gasoline engine was as efficient as today's engines. The naysayers are expecting perfection on the first iteration. You have to learn to walk before you can run.
  • Reply 19 of 40


    And, and, not only that, but I read on Cnet that Apple windmills will be 'locked in' pointing straight east, making them incompatible with 45% of winds!


     


    Seriously, every single time Apple invents anything, people heap on the vague criticism with inverse proportion to their individual expertise of the field in question. "The less I know, the more I don't like it." And that's why it's impossible to debate with the anti-green mindset; to this day there are still practicioners of geocentrism, so some people will just never understand that harnessing the sun's 5 billion year supply of energy makes more sense than using up Earth's 50-100 year supply.

  • Reply 20 of 40
    kolchakkolchak Posts: 1,398member


    Heating water directly by having a windmill directly drive paddles immersed in a tank of water is actually an old idea and fairly well-known in the wind energy field. It's not as inefficient as the naysayers think.

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