The ‘Wind Tree’ that could heat your home

Editor’s Note: The Art of Movement is a monthly show that highlights the most significant innovations in science and technology that are helping shape our modern world.

Story highlights

A French company has designed an energy generator that looks like a tree

The "leaves" are mini turbines and together could power 15 streetlights

CNN  — 

From a distance this may look like an ordinary tree, but get closer and you will discover it is actually a power generator.

French company NewWind has created the “Arbre a Vent” or “Wind Tree,” a 3-meter-tall generator designed for urban environments which makes the most of smaller air currents.

Operating in near complete silence, the wind tree consists of 72 micro turbine “aeroleaves” that rotate in the wind, generating an estimated 3.1. kW of power.

While this isn’t much compared to industrial-sized turbines, which typically generate in the region of 1 - 3MW, having multiple smaller turbines has its uses.

“Urban wind is not very strong, but it is very turbulent,” says “Arbre à Vent” engineer Julia Revuz. “These turbines need less wind to get started and produce around 3kW of energy, which could heat a small home, fuel lights or charge an electric car.”

NewWind was founded by Jérôme Michaud-Larivière three years ago when he had the idea for the Wind Tree while taking a walk. He saw the leaves on a tree moving in the wind and started thinking about the possibility of turning that kinetic energy into electricity.

The current prototype of the tree is steel and the energy made from it goes into the electricity grid and is used locally.

“We haven’t yet optimized the structure,” says Revuz. “We are hoping to make the leaves out of eco-friendly materials and for the tree to have as a low a carbon footprint as possible.”

A 12-meter tall prototype of the tree will be on display from March 12 for two months at Place de la Concorde, a major public square in Paris.

This prototype, which weighs around 5 tons and costs roughly $35,000, is to be used as an educational tool and will aim to show the public the technology behind the structure. The wind tree will be mass produced for sale from March 2015 and NewWind says it has raised €1.15 million ($1.34 million) to begin pre-production.

“The reaction has been very positive so far,” explains Revuz. “People don’t know how it works but they like it, they find it magical.

“There is a very negative view of wind energy, people think it’s ugly and it ruins their landscapes. Then they see the wind tree and they think differently.”

NewWind has had interest from local government in France and Europe, as well as real estate agents and businesses that want to have the tree on their land. There are even talks about another demonstration tree in London next year.

The Wind Tree may not be affordable and practical for everyone, but there are other applications that could be more accessible.

“Our technology is in the mini wind turbines (the aeroleaves),” says Revuz. “So we are developing other applications for them.

“Architects have been in touch and are interested in using them in their work, perhaps on the roofs of buildings. Mini turbines are cheaper to produce and buy than the wind tree.”

Other ideas for the aeroleaves include rooftop foliage installed on buildings, foliage on roadsides and the smart balcony – where the mini turbines are attached to balcony railings.

However innovative, this is not the first urban energy source inspired by nature – check out the “Power Flower” and others in the gallery above.

Watch: Windmill turns power into paint

Read: Imogen Heap’s sci-fi gloves make anyone a musician