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Working with wind

Local resident hopes invention could increase wind power use in Florida.

May 2, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Jim Walker has been a radar engineer. He's been a sailing captain. And now, he's an inventor.

The idea for the Cyclotross, the name he's chosen for his invention, came to him in his sleep, and kept track of his thoughts in a notebook.

"I kept getting the idea of a spiral," he said.

Article Photos

Four curved wings form the body of the invention, which can catch wind no matter which direction it's blowing.
Photos by Jessica Salmond

Then, with a little research, Walker discovered the concept of the golden ratio - and he knew he was onto something. The beginning design of his silent, eye-catching wind turbine was born.

Walker has invented a kind of turbine that catches wind no matter which direction it's blowing, and it doesn't have to be moved to catch the wind. It doesn't take much to get the four "wings" moving: at just 5 miles per hour, the turbine will start its rotation.

The inner workings of the turbine are based on that golden ratio, 1.618. It's a phenomenon seen in nature, such as spiral seashells, hurricane formations or spiral galaxies. It's a calculation often used in design and building, too, because what's produced with it is often pleasing to the eye in its proportionality. In the case of Walker's turbine, the "wings" curve inside to fit a spiral designed with the golden ratio.

"Because of that, there will never be a spot where the wind will oppose its rotation," he said.

Walker has been working on the Cyclotross for years. He went through several different prototypes before reaching his finished product, and he got the patent for the provisional design in 2009 and received the official patent in 2016. Bill Noonan, an attorney, helped him advocate with the patent office.

The Florida native built the turbine himself mostly in his backyard, making molds for the wings and creating them out of fiberglass and a vinylester resin. Walker did get some help: Doug Martin at Beach Fender Mender sprayed a gel coat over the fiberglass to add rigidity. Jeff Sears at Repair Care welded the parts together. Walker used to live on Fort Myers Beach and now lives just offshore, so he wanted to work with local businesses.

What makes the turbine most unique - and what earned Walker the design patent - is its use of torque. Torque is force times distance, and because of the design of the Cyclotross, it can produce more torque in a smaller space that a traditional radial wind turbine with the long blades. The spiral length is longer than the radius, giving it more force. Each wing is eight pounds.

He thinks the design would be better suited for urban environments compared to traditional turbines as it can produce more power using less space. And, it could be a perfect turbine for Florida. The Cyclotross is an experimental prototype, and Walker thinks it has potential to improve upon wind energy use in the state.

Walker said traditional turbines need about 20 to 25 miles per hour of wind to produce optimal power. A sustainability study on wind energy by the University of Michigan in 2017 says a commercial turbine need an absolute minimum of 15 miles per hour. But in Florida, average daily winds are much lower, usually around 8 to 10.

"That's why there's no turbines in this area," he said.

He's hooked up the Cyclotross to four 12-volt batteries using a generator, charge controller and an AC inverter. He can monitor the voltage being produced by his device. The Cyclotross starts producing power and charging the batteries when winds are between 12 to 15 miles per hour.

"If its enough to make your hair move, this thing will turn," Walker said.

One of Walker's proudest talking points on the Cyclotross is that it's completely silent when in operation, making it less intrusive for wildlife and even human urban life.

"This is different. It's robust, quiet a natural wind engine," he said.

Clean energy is something Walker's always had an interest in. In 1985, he sailed from California through the Panama Canal to Florida on a solar-powered sailboat.

"I know I don't need to be plugged in," he said.

But the interest in wind power came hand-in-hand with his love of sailing. He's always had a feeling for the wind, and has an thorough understanding of how it works from sailing. That, combined with his engineering career in the 1970s, sparked the excitement to invent.

In 2008, his uncle sent him newspaper clippings of an experimental underwater turbine that was being used on a barge, which harnessed the Mississippi River current and produced energy for the barge to use. Walker's mind turned to wind power in Florida, and how an enhanced device could make it work. He credits his sleep-induced inspirations as a signal from God to build the Cyclotross.

"It's been therapeutic. I had to have my mind on it," he said.

Walker set up his own LLC, Golden Ratio Turbine Concepts, and even has a website, goldenratioturbineconcepts.com, but he's been sitting on his secret for the decade he's been fine-tuning his experimental design. He decided now is the time to show the world what he's made. He recently settled on the name Cyclotross, which he's trademarked. It's a combination of cyclonic vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) and the albatross bird. Walker calls the four pieces of his turbine "wings" like that of a bird, and liked the way the albatross's downward wing motion would frame the turbine icon.

Walker hopes to find a company that could partner with him to perfect the Cyclotross design and produce it commercially. He'd also like to develop an underwater version of the Cyclotross, too.

Walker is hopeful that the right company will want to work with him - especially as concern grows for more sustainable energy sources.

"I feel the sun, the wind, the currents in the river. We're wasting all this natural energy and we're locked into fossil fuels because it's convenient and political," Walker said. "We need to get back to nature and preserve what we have for the future, and I'd like to be a part of it."

 
 

 

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