We’re Sorry Gizmodo, But Mini Wind-Turbines Won’t Power Your Electric Car For Free

Sometimes when we’re browsing the Internet, we read a news article which is so unbelievable we have to reach for the calendar to check it isn’t April 1. If the story is about a subject we know well — like electric cars and renewable energy — we often feel compelled to stop the stupid by methodically debunking it in our heads to make sure we’re not the crazy ones.

A perpetual-motion EV? Sorry Gizmodo, but that's impossible.

A perpetual-motion EV? Sorry Gizmodo, but that’s impossible.

If that doesn’t work, we’ll write an article explaining just how crazy — or impossible — it is, especially if it’s a concept, story or idea that just keeps coming round again and again and won’t die.

Which explains nicely how we feel about an article published by Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski last night in which Liszewski enthuses about a product called the Transport Turbine. 

“Electricity generating windmills chum out free energy as long as the wind is blowing,” he writes. “So strapping one to the roof of your car where there’s always a breeze as long as you’re driving just seems obvious.”

Liszewski goes on to explain that the four-turbine 3D printed Transport Turbine is currently only a proof of concept, but has been designed to generate electricity at speeds of over 25 mph. Moreover, he enthuses, the device has been designed “with minimal drag” so that its effect on fuel efficiency will be minimal.

Its purpose, he says is to help provided extra 12-volt power to run vehicle electronics like the radio or navigation system, and will be available later this year in the U.S. in both a 25 watt version and a 1kW version.

If you’re reaching for the calendar to check the date like we did, bear with us, because it gets much, much better, because the article claims the larger turbine “can be used to keep a battery perpetually charging in an electric car.”

Except it can’t, because doing so would equate to a perpetual motion machine. And while no-one has a physics degree here at Transport Evolved (we both studied Physics at high school) perpetual motion machines break the law of conservation of energy.

You see, energy can’t be generated or destroyed: only transferred. When we talk about generating power using wind turbines for example, what is actually happening is that the force — or energy — of the wind hitting the turbines is first translated first into mechanical and then into electrical energy by the turbine. While it might not seem like it, wind that has just passed through a wind turbine will have less energy than wind about to pass through it. When we say generation, we actually mean transference of energy from one form to another.  In the process of converting the energy from one form to another, there’s always some energy lost along the way due to inefficiencies in the system.

That hasn’t stopped humans searching for a perpetual motion holy grail, but as popular geek comic XKCD put it once, “The misguided search for a perpetual motion machine has run substantially longer than any attempted perpetual motion machine.”

In the Gizmodo example, four small wind turbines atop an electric car are claimed to keep the car’s battery charged up, providing an almost unlimited range. In reality however, the movement of the wind through the turbines on top of the car would produce additional drag, requiring the car itself to use more energy to move along.

The same basic rules of physics apply to motors, making it impossible to attach a motor to one axle and a generator to the other in the quest for ‘free energy.’ It’s just not going to happen. Sorry. No matter how clever you are, or how much time you spend building a car…

Because there are always energy losses each time energy is transferred — and we forget the fact that most modern electric cars easily consume more than 15 kilowatts of instantaneous power maintaining a sensible freeway cruising speed on flat roads — the range of the car would actually drop with this little gizmo on top.

Still confused? Let’s ask Mr. Fullerton for help:

But because we’re nice folks who are starting to feel guilty after our bout of schadenfreude, we’re going to give Gizmodo and Liszewski a break. After all, Liszewski has been covering CES 2014 all week. As any journalist will tell you, by the third or fourth day of a big show, the long work hours, and lack of decent food, sleep and personal space does weird things to your common sense.

We think the story should have been about a 3D printed microturbine which was, a little like the Ford C-Max Solar Energi concept we told you about last week, designed to help charge up electric cars while they were parked up.

In that context, a 1kW removable turbine atop an electric car could add several miles of range to most electric cars for every hour parked, provided the wind was strong enough, of course.

Although we’ve tried really hard to find the turbine mentioned elsewhere however, we’re drawing a complete blank.

Still, at least it gave us a chance to explain why you can’t have wind turbines on EVs.

And remind us not to believe everything we read on the Internet…


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  • Richard Glover

    I have had this from a few people at work and having explained it away I have then added that I would like to have pedal powered generation from each passenger albeit that my mum (88) would not like the idea. Could my son (16) pedal the 15 miles to school in the car thus compensate for his weight and give off heat for both of us?

    • Mark Chatterley

      I’ve had it too. Also, “why not attach the back wheels to a generator”. *Sigh* Science education isn’t what it was…

  • Michael Thwaite

    The fact that you’ve all been asked by friends, family and colleagues is exactly why this is a great idea, seriously, we should be making these, there’s clearly a market out there!

    • vdiv

      Turbines are too complex, too noisy, and a bit expensive. I’m thinking kites… or sails!nnThink about it! There would be nothing more prestigious if in addition to the Tesla Motors Club (TMC) folks are bestowed the high honor to belong to the Terrestrial Yacht Club (TYC)! 😉

      • Michael Thwaite

        Well, if you read some of the anti-EV comments out there, sails will be the only way to move the Roadster “When it’s 5 years old and the batteries are done for and you can’t get replacements because they don’t make them anymore.” – Genuine comment that one!

  • Kieron

    I get so frustrated trying to explain to people why we cannot just add a generator to the front wheels! So called educated people as well. Arghhhhh

    • Brave Toaster

      It has one. They’re called “regenerative brakes”. They do a wonderful job of slowing the car down. 🙂

      • Kieron

        OK Mr pedantic, I mean as it is driving on the straight and level at constant speed!

  • Espen Hugaas Andersen

    It would work, if you just scale it up enough.nnI’m thinking a tracked vehicle, something along the lines of the NASA crawler-transporters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crawler-transporter nnMount a 100 meter high wind turbine on top and you’re good to go. 🙂

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  • Chris Goggin PE

    Dear Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield: Hi this is the inventor of the Transport Turbine, first things first, this turbine is not for EV’s not the idea here, it’s just to put an independently powered device on vehicles without having to drill or run wires into a vehicle, I never said it was a perpetual energy device Gizmodo did that!. I’m a degreed and licensed mechanical engineer with 25 years of experience including military aerospace. in this case a mobile Wi-Fi device that keeps it’s own batteries charged, it can be installed on any vehicle, truck, boat, etc. without having to do any permanent installation. Not everyone is as “smart” as you but we try to be.

    • Joseph Givens

      correct me if I am wrong but couldn’t you add wind generation without adding extra drag. For instance the electric motor will leave a lot of space available in the standard motor bay. If you were to put 4 funnels across the grill of the car which would force air across impellers mounted on generators and then exhaust that air out vents on the sides of the car not only would it allow you to reap the power from the air without adding extra drag it may actually result in decreasing the drag. I realize it would likely not produce enough energy to make it perpetual but should be able to extend the range.

      • Szaboo

        EXACTLY! Thats what im also thinking about. +1 on that!

        Each and every car has a large amount of drag, of course if you put things on the roof, it will create extra drag. But if you use already dragging parts, this should work. Who knows how well… The Chinese dudes car is a good example just terrible to look at.

        • Gisle

          I imagine the added weight of a system that can generate a meaningful charge would in turn reduce the mileage of the vehicle.

          An example:

          A relatively large windmill system at 16kg can produce 200w, lets say you have a electrical car with a small 22kwh battery, able to go around 80-90km on that charge.

          With the wind system functioning it would be able to produce 0,2kwh in one hour, it would need to run at optimal speed for 110 hours to completely charge the battery.

          Presumably more power could be saved by replacing the doors and hood in said vehicle with lightweight carbon fiber structures.

          In general the energy needed to move a relatively heavy object requires high energy density, a gas or diesel generator could do it, but you would be better of turning that mechanical energy into motion rather than transforming it into electrical power for an electrical engine.

  • Ken Rodriguez

    It’s a bit misguided in both directions. nnn1) Perpetual motion machines are impossible. n2) Having an (essentially) unlimited amount of energy on earth is not impossible. nnnYou have to draw a box around a system and define your system that way. If you the box around the car, then yes, nothing inside that 15-foot box will provide an infinite amount of power. Draw the box around earth, we will probably find quite a few ways to generate power for a while, but probably not forever. Draw the box to include the sun, and yes, we have an essentially infinite amount of power. 99.99999% of the suns potential photovoltaic power goes to waste on the earth. nnnPutting the power generating device on the vehicle is not the right design mantra. There are plenty of power-storing devices that we are good at (batteries). Separate the two and you still retain a system transportation that can be infinitely renewable without having to break the laws of physics. nnnWe have the technology to obtain a near-infinite amount of power from the wind and sun; we just haven’t built the infrastructure yet to 1) harness it, 2) store it 3) distribute it. nnn*”near infinite” and “essentially unlimited” power because eventually the sun will stop providing us power and/or earth’s orbit will either decay or release from the sun’s gravitational pull. That will happen several hundred millions of years before we all die out from disease, asteroid impact, world war, zombie apocalypse, etc. So basically, power is not our limiting factor on this planet.

    • Joan Christopher Rodriguez

      I agree on the near infinite part of energy… The sun will not be released from the Sun’s gravitational pull – ever – unless pushed over by something else such as a very large asteroid. Thanks to Earth, the Sun’s rotation rate is slowing down by 3 milliseconds every century so angular momentum is decreasing. This means that the Earth is moving away, however, the Sun will have expanded much sooner than the point at which the angular momentum is low enough for earth to escape.

  • Sarah J Bojorquez

    http://www.wimp.com/farmerinvented/ wind powerered car infvented.

  • Richard Gozinya

    Huh, I’m not a scientist or anything remotely resembling that, but wouldn’t it be possible to add range to an EV if you were to put a magnet attached to the crank, and basically encase that in a coil? Like one of those shake flashlights? I’m not saying it’d be perpetual motion, because even I’m not that stupid. But depending on how it’s built, it could add quite a bit of range, couldn’t it?nnI’ve actually seen a couple of transmissions that utilize magnets, so you’ve already got the spinning magnet right there. If those transmissions actually work, would just need the coil around it, or some other conductive thing. I don’t know how much more range one could get out of that, as it’s just a very very loose, uneducated theory, but it seems like it would add to the range.

    • code47

      nope, when the magnet rotates it generates electricity in the coil. this electricity in-turn produces a magnetic field of it’s own around it. this field and the magnet’s field interact and will add resistance to the shaft, thus you again have loss of power.

  • disqus_pppFc3kfp1

    I think “drive forever” was a metaphor and you are not as smart as you think you are, but you are just as snobby….

  • Erik Johnsen

    I find it quite interesting that American scientists always use the metric system in their calculations. Why the heck does the rest of USA use the neanderthal system?? it doesn’t make sense.

    • NotRappaport

      President Carter tried to move us onto the metric system, but conservative politicians blocked it because: (1) their fear-mongering about it served as an effective propaganda tool against a Democratic president; and (2) fundamentalist Christian preachers here were telling their flocks the metric system was a devil’s tool to help the Antichrist rule the world. Seriously.


    how about using a multiple power source system, instead of trying to find a single source consider multiple sources, I got a design idea that could be plausible, main power coming from hydrogen fuel cells, while the main batteries are being drained by the engine the multiple power sources are charging the spent batteries there by extending the range, im not saying a perpetual system but a system that extends the range those other power sources could be solar panels on the roof, a wind turbine system that’s aerodynamic (instead of a car cutting through the wind resistance allowing the wind through where the turbine system is in place im not talking about attaching a fan to your roof but a system that’s aerodynamic as possible there by minimalizing drag), also having a gear charging system on the axles near the wheel base, so while the wheels are spinning is charging generators that charges the dead batteries, these systems are not meant to be the main power source but to complement the main power system the HFC, I haven’t tested my theory so im not sure the axle system or turbine system will produce more energy than is consumed by them though.

    • Chris

      i like the way you think.. i am kind of thinking a long the same way… seems to me like as long as you store the electricty being generated from multiple sources while the EV is in motion, you could essentially be charging one or multiple backup batteries while discharging the one in use, then as the one becomes empty it switches to one of the backup sources… And given the number of different ways to generate elec, i can see there being multiple generator sources on the same EV.. wind, PV paint (solar), friction from tires, and any other forms I am drawing a blank on that can be used on an EV…

      • Chris

        i dont think that falls into P.M.G. territory either

  • Matthew A. Combatti

    Richard is right. Tesla motors uses turbines to extend battery powered car ranges extensively. A circuit like Nicola Tesla’s black box has been reproduced and would ensure a constant battery charge. This itself is not “perpetual motion” since it is indeed getting a constant power input from the environment. No laws are broken…rather exploited for the “less known” applications.nnhttp://youtu.be/bKW2nn6rWvAnnHere is a working demo which ends up outputting 40 times the initial input. Again, energy is conserved… But through resonance and negative resistance…we ‘tip the hill’ to make the ball roll back up so-to-speak…remember in space up and down are relative and objects move with gravitation fields. Electrons are no different and easier to manipulate than high density mass objects.

  • JackOfHearts

    Seems silly to dismiss an idea by making an assumption that it would be “perpetual energy” and “perpetual energy machines are impossible”. Sounds like jumping on the nay-sayer bandwagon of folks that want to assert they are smart just because they understand the law of conservation of energy. How about discussing the actual physics and energy involved and whether or not there is excess wind energy that can possibly be harnessed when driving a motor vehicle? In other words, the potential energy gained from the wind turbine vs the energy lost from the drag? It may just be a matter of efficiency u2014 capturing more work from the energy expended (via burning gasoline, etc.). Or there may be no gain. But anyone actually interested in the progressive applications of science would discuss the actual factors and not use broad dismissive assumptions and generalities. Sorry, if I’m ranting but dismissive nay-saying puts me in a bad mood. I expect relevant facts from science-minded articles.

    • Andre Theron

      No. It is not silly at all. YOu should never even try to discuss the finer points of perpetual motion because the fundamental physics is against it.nIn your case. “the potential energy gained from the wind turbine vs the energy lost from the drag?”nALL the backward wind is generated by you burning fuel to move your car (Ok, except a headwind)nSo it does not matter how much energy you gain, you gained it by burning your fuel, and you hus wasted fuel since all the wires and combustion chambers and motors lose energy as friction. So there will ALWAYS be a net loss

      • Joan Christopher Rodriguez

        Of course there will ALWAYS be a net loss… that’s not in question here. The question is… how much of a net loss?

  • BIO

    Yes it is posible to charge batteries with this.as long as those turbines produce more power, than the power of motor is needed for that drag

  • Brian Wright

    This article makes the incorrect assumption that the only wind ever to be blown over a car is generated solely by the car’s frontal motion during energy consumption. Of course, this idea is what most people are thinking when they think about a wind turbine on a car. While I acknowledge that the majority of the generated ‘wind’ over a car’s frame is by the car’s energy usage motion, there are gusts of wind that can come entirely from the environment (i.e., storms, ocean breezes, downhill travel, deceleration, etc). However, you couldn’t rely on environmental wind when traveling high speed on a highway because that environment generated wind is likely moving at a much slower speed than the car’s ‘generated’ wind. Though, in some cases, environmental winds can actually produce speeds faster than the car is traveling, such as when putzing around town at 35 or less.

    In a particularly hefty headwind or tailwind or while parked or at a stop light, a wind turbine on a car should be able to generate energy above its transfer loss. It all depends on the environmental situation and the environmental wind speed and direction. However, I will concede that under effectively windless conditions when the car is operating at a constant high speed, having a wind turbine deployed on a car would likely result in less mileage.

    In addition to outside wind forces, you could deploy a wind turbine during deceleration or on a downhill slope and recover energy, much like regenerative braking. So, while a deployed wind turbine may not be practical for high speed travel, deploying one could be useful during braking, downhill use or in particularly windy conditions. It would be the most appropriate, for example, to deploy a wind turbine when your car is sitting on a parking lot during a windy day to recharge the battery. Basically, having computer controlled deployment of a wind turbine on a car during favorable wind conditions could generate energy above its loss. In other words, the turbines could automatically deploy outside the car during favorable wind conditions, while in stop and go traffic and while parked.

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  • SexForUs

    But could these turbines or ones like them, not power your laptop or GPS device and could it not charge a deep cycle battery that is not being used?

    Example: You have a small camper that uses deep cycle batteries and converter to power your LED lights and other small electrical devices, such as those mentioned, could it work for that and possibly even run a small electrical water pump in the camper that is used for showering and washing your hands at the sink, etc?

  • Larry Horton

    Now I may have an application where by the wind turbine may actually work as a cogeneration system. I am currently researching different alternatives to power the house system on my tour bus. I have an older Silver Eagle Bus with a fairly blunt nose and a large empty compartment directly behind. Utilizing a hybrid charge controller, in combination with my generator and solar energy production, one could potentially use this wind generator at the nose of the bus with some modification to all additional charge to the batteries with no additional drag on the bus. However, based on a 10 day trip at 8 hours per/day there would only be an addition of 4KW generated at best. Assuming there would be an 80% efficiency, that would drop it to say..3KW. or about 2 hours use of my air conditioning unit. Not to mention putting holes in the front of my baby. This is based on using two of the 25 watt wind turbines. Possible but not viable.

  • Joan Christopher Rodriguez

    I’ll agree with the majority of people: it’s impossible to regenerate and capture the exact same amount of energy that was transferred from batteries (or internal combustion). However, the concept of small scale wind turbines on vehicles isn’t all that terrible. Let’s say that instead of focusing on wind turbines that will forever power our cars in perpetual motion, that we focus on wind turbines that will increase the overall efficiency of the use of our vehicles. As a simple prototype, let’s construct a vehicle with only batteries as the power reserve, a regenerative brake system, solar cells, thermoelectric generators (convert heat flux directly into electricity; It can get very hot in Texas!), and a regenerative wind turbine as well as typical drag and friction reduction designs.