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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