Windstalk 825x 525New Media alumnus Rob Hussey points to this story about a proposal to tap the wind’s energy with “windstalks” rather than windmills. The idea is to harness the ability of a column made of piezoelectric material to convert the stress of bending with the wind into fossil-free electricity. Unlike a battery of conventional wind turbines, this artificial prairie would produce no friction and minimal noise. And look a mite prettier than a giant metal turbine.

Biomimicry is a popular strategy for sustainable design, while piezoelectric materials are still unfamiliar to some people. That said, in 2010 NMD student Nick Fiore proposed a piezoelectric Radio-Controlled car, intended to regain lost energy via tires, bumpers, and other stress points.

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Noise from wind turbine blades, inadvertent bat and bird kills and even the way wind turbines look have made installing them anything but a breeze. New York design firm Atelier DNA has an alternative concept that ditches blades in favor of stalks. Resembling thin cattails, the Windstalks generate electricity when the wind sets them waving. The designers came up with the idea for the planned city Masdar, a 2.3-square-mile, automobile-free area being built outside of Abu Dhabi. Atelier DNA’s “Windstalk” project came in second in the Land Art Generator competition a contest sponsored by Madsar to identify the best work of art that generates renewable energy from a pool of international submissions….

The top of each tall stalk has an LED lamp that glows when the wind is blowing — more intensely during strong winds and not all when the air is still. The firm anticipates that the stalks will behave naturally, vibrating and fluttering in the air.

"Windstalk is completely silent, and the image associated with them is something we're already used to seeing in a field of wheat or reeds in a marsh. Our hope is that people living close to them will like to walk through the field — especially at night — under their own, private sky of swarming stars," said Núñez-Ameni.

After completion, a Windstalk should be able to produce as much electricity as a single wind turbine, with the advantage that output could be increased with a denser array of stalks. Density is not possible with conventional turbines, which need to be spaced about three times the rotor's diameter in order to avoid air turbulence. But Windstalks work on chaos and turbulence so they can be installed much closer together, said Núñez-Ameni.

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