Shawn Frayne invented a nonturbine wind-powered generator that has enormous potential to help people in poor communities power lamps, keep small vaccine refrigerators cool, and charge cell phones for relatively little cost.
People facing the toughest challenges will respond with breakthrough innovations.
Frayne was inspired to create the Windbelt generator during a 2004 trip to Petite Anse, a small fishing village in Haiti that was not connected to an electric grid. Locals were dependent on diesel and kerosene for lighting, at a cost of US$5 to $10 a month—a huge sum for most families. Frayne was driven to find an inexpensive and reliable alternative that would enable residents to harvest energy on their own. After a series of unsatisfying experiments with solar cells and microturbines, he remembered a film he had seen in a physics class about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State, which famously collapsed in 1940 due to powerful vibrations caused by the wind. Frayne’s invention, an elegant device small and light enough to hold in your hand, harnesses this effect, known as “aeroelastic flutter,” by using tensioned membranes to capture small pockets of wind energy. The membranes oscillate magnets linearly past wire coils, which creates an electrical flow. Today, Frayne continues to explore clean energy alternatives through his companies Humdinger Wind Energy, LLC and Haddock Invention. Recent projects include the Solar Pocket Factory, a small machine that could enable local, cost-effective production of microsolar panels.
— Shawn Frayne