Wind power just became a lot more accessible.
Canadian company Aurea has developed a portable wind turbine that fits in your backpack. Called Shine, it weighs just three pounds, it’s about the size of a water bottle, and it can charge any USB device, or up to four phones (though not at the same time). The turbine is shaped a bit like a mini Zeppelin. It features three gently curved blades that fold out like flower petals and a collapsible tripod that is stored inside. The product launched on Kickstarter last year and on Indigogo last week. It has raised over $270,000 so far and will be shipping in a matter of months–just in time for camping season.
Humans have been harnessing the wind for centuries, but it has always required massive infrastructure, be it windmills or wind turbines. In recent years, engineers and designers alike have taken it upon themselves to reinvent the technology by playing with scale and form (think wind turbines integrated into walls or giant grids made of tiny turbines). But Aurea’s founders had a different goal in mind: Make wind power portable.
Shine can be used during a blackout at home, and serve anyone who needs access to energy while not attached to the grid. But its most likely users are going to be campers, RVers, and nomads, making weight a crucial factor. “People said, ‘We won’t carry it if it weighs more than three pounds,'” says Cat Adaley, a mechanical engineer who founded Aurea in 2017 and developed Shine with entrepreneur Rachel Carr. “Every design feature was weighed.” (The battery makes up a third of the weight, and the turbine is made of polycarbonate reinforced plastic with a glass composite; the tripod is aluminum.) All of this helped the founders create a portable turbine that has the highest power to weight ratio of any renewable energy at this scale, Adaley says.
Shine isn’t the first small-scale wind turbine on the market, but its portable nature and user-friendly design are unique. To set it up, all you have to do is stab the tripod into the ground and hold it down with tensioned cables–a bit like setting up a tent. Then, you can unscrew the bottom cap of the wind turbine that holds the blades in place, unfold the blades, and fix the whole thing on top of the tripod. The process takes fewer than two minutes, and the tensioned cables mean that the tripod can be set up on uneven terrain (although the rod needs to be driven into something, so it wouldn’t work on a sturdy surface like pavement).
When Aurea was first started in 2017, the concept began as a grid of small-scale wind turbines that could be incorporated into building facades. The turbines would be positioned in such a way that each one of them would funnel air into the next, creating a mini-tunnel effect that would increase the amount of energy produced. But stringent building codes and complications around how the system would connect to the grid made it difficult to commercialize with the funds they had available, so the founders took what they learned and scaled it down to a handheld, portable device.
The result may look a little different, but is, in fact, a micro version of a regular wind turbine. It even has the same mechanism, called yawing, which allows the turbine head to spin into the wind, so you don’t have to worry about which direction the wind is blowing. It works at wind speeds from 8 mph (a gentle wind breeze) to 28 mph (enough to sway heavy branches and flip umbrellas), though if you’re planning to go somewhere with zero wind, you may be better off packing a portable solar panel.
For now, Shine’s lifespan is about five years, or roughly 1,000 battery cycles, but the founders are exploring the possibility of a removable battery that could simply be replaced at the end of its life. And in case you’re wondering why a wind turbine bears a name that would’ve been more suited to a solar panel: “Shine is meant to reflect not its function but rather its value and what it’s giving to the end user,” Adaley says. “It enables you to shine outdoors.”