Mechanical Energy From Wind: Lessons From Venezuela

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Dear readers:

Setting up a self-sufficient compound is not easy, and indeed not cheap. But that does not mean it cannot be affordable. As I have mentioned in previous articles, one of the parts of the planning is the assessment of what you’re going to produce, whether it is for extra income or for your own consumption.

I have learned over the years to think under some sort of a plan, and then resolve the problems that arise as they occur. This seems the most effective, efficient, and easy method to achieve the success of any project. I have found it works even for raising children, go figure. The key is you have to make a goal as definite as possible.

I have detected several devices that are going to be needed in my instance. I am pretty sure I will find some technical issues, but we will manage to defeat them. 

I am sure most of you are going to comment that it´s not anything new what is described below, and you´re absolutely right. The reasons are the same, indeed: to provide energy for some chores: milling grain, pumping water, or providing energy in some way or another. We have now a different approach, and affordable, reliable, easy-to-handle technology, and enough information to be able to deal with problems and setbacks rather good. Modern equipment is there to help us. 

If one of the gears in your decades-old vacuum-sealing machine breaks or a nozzle breaks, you just take your computer and draw a new one, 3D print it or send the file to someone who can.

Maybe even via packet radio or similar technology if the internet is not there anymore. Obviously you will have managed to get access to a network of people with small businesses to interact with. Small workshops, but provided with all the needed technology.

The old world where things were not repairable and you could get a new one because the containers came filled up to the top with all kinds of Chinese merchandise is no longer there. 

For those who understand this, and know the value of having the means to grind your own grain, without having to spend a payload of money in a complicated solar panels array, with a limited lifetime, this article is surely useful for you. Most of the approaches these days are headed towards using wind turbines as a means to generate electricity. This is not easy nor cheap. Most of the time these systems are a bit complex.

How about using this tool to generate just mechanical energy, skipping the step to transform in electricity? We won’t need an engineering degree for rigging something useful, provided we already have a goal, some general guidance and our needs are not as demanding. It has been used much before the appearance of the electricity as a practical invention.

I mean, if I can grind 4 or 5 kilos of cornmeal a day without having to rely in a power grid that I don’t know if it will be there tomorrow, is already a plus. Do you have any idea of how many people wakes up at 3 o’clock AM after spending a day on the streets in the lines looking for food in Venezuela, just to discover that water pressure is good enough so they can fill their buckets, one after another?

How about being able to feed your animals with ground food without even having to think in the power grid? Or having your elevated tank filled up to the top all the time so you don’t have to worry about electricity to fill it up? For me, having a wind turbine to provide mechanical energy, albeit intermittent, is better than nothing. Especially when I can build something quite functional without too much effort nor too many resources. 

This is not an idea generated just by my imagination; it has good technical background regarding the conversion of kinetic energy to mechanical energy in an efficient way for certain applications, according to this article.

The supply of mechanical energy is going to be needed for the applications that will be described below. It is going to be almost impossible to build a device that can remain unnoticed unless your location is extremely well positioned nearby a strong waterfall with a high level of inclination and you are capable of setting up a hydro turbine in such a way that you could conceal it if you needed to do so. This would be an ideal arrangement, with more advantages than disadvantages. At the moment of writing this, I am working in a scalable, affordable, easy to setup arrangement, based on wind energy, but without breaking the bank nor being excessively on the open.

For more info on hydro turbines and some small scale options, check out this post.

However, field trials are necessary, and being in the middle of one of the largest cities in South America is less than ideal. If you stay tuned, you will be able to catch as soon as we release the system. No time frame yet but it is a fact. I would love to leave to my preppers community something tangible, in addition to a few articles and a couple of books.  

Mechanical Energy From Wind: Lessons From Venezuela

I need a device for getting mechanical energy.

Humans have been using water stream energy for decades. In the area I come from this is not very common. People nearby to strong, permanent rivers have much more to say about this, as surely their ancestors have been using river power for centuries. Sawmills, grain mills, and primitive electrical generators have been using this endless, cheap, and natural energy source. We all know that. 

Let’s see what we can do if the wind in your area is more or less constant (in the past you had to go to your local library, now within a few seconds you can know it). An inexpensive device to measure speed and general direction of your location can be found if you search for an anemometer (wind gauge).

Meteorological services in your area can help to determinate the best orientation for your system, once built, and provide yearly records that can help you to decide whether this is a good option. 

Within popular North American culture, we have been exposed to all over Latin America, the water well with a windmill on top, to pump out water is a popular image. These kinds of devices are prohibitively expensive in our country. The reason is simple: they are extremely useful.

They allow you to have water out of the ground in places where you don’t have access to the power grid. The same guys selling you the windmill pump are those selling the electric pumps…and of course, the spare parts for these pumps. Quite a good business and they won’t let it go.  

In Scandinavia there are some gorgeous windmills in operation. Some of them even still grind grain!

If there is something that Venezuelans should know nowadays is, you can’t trust in the power grid.

Not in the big cities, at least. Even though, some guys in small towns have done nothing to overcome their lack of power. Darwin is on the loose, fellows. Get on the bus on time and you’ll be fine. 

That being said, everything this useful is expensive as heck, especially in a crisis like ours. Feel free to extrapolate that to this coming years, as I am 85% sure the scenario is going to be. 

After having checked the values of your location, regarding wind speed and direction, you have to decide whether it is sufficient for your needs. As a general rule, if you read values over 12 mph or 3 m/s in your place, year round, this is enough to make things work. Another rule is, the taller your tower is, and the larger your blades, the most efficiently your windmill will be.

This applies to electrical turbines, but of course electricity is generating because blades make spin a shaft attached to a generator. A reduction gearbox maybe needed, and modern technology works for us with this, too, as there are plenty of solutions.  

However, the intention of this article is to make you aware of this: you may use a wind turbine to generate just mechanical energy and power different accessories. Grain mill, sugarcane mill (would be great in my case as for some reason in my neck of woods sugarcane is easy to grow), bone mill (would work to produce fish flour for my poultry) or whatever other stuff I need to crush and grind.

In the case of sugarcane, I was once in a place in the English Caribbean where a windmill was used for crushing sugarcane. It was huge, but considering the large volumes to be crushed, it was logical. We use large, donkey-propelled crushers sometimes as in my grampa’s farm. That’s why I am willing to design a more efficient solution. 

I can almost see some people grinning at this. Sure you can laugh, but this Dutch windmill is still working since 1761 producing flour.

I must warn about this: I’m not a mechanical engineer, but I do can tell you, maybe some expert advice is going to be needed for reductions, gearboxes, and similar stuff. I do can tell as well, that some power losses are to be expected in the redirection of the horizontal axle of your windmill 90 degrees, to the ground where you presumably want to use it.

However maybe if you are skilled and have enough resources to build a very large one to use the axis itself in place up there, be my guest, post some pictures and let us know, please. Just be careful with your fingers and build everything with the “safety first” criteria. 

A little bit of power loss is present as well in the vertical shaft that redirects the horizontal rotary movement downwards when you use a horizontal turbine though. This shaft has a weight of its own, and initial inertia to overcome. Thes axis is usually hollow, more like a pipe than a rotating bar. Ingenuity here can be a great asset. 90 degrees gears are needed, but you could avoid this by using vertical turbines (which my first prototype is going to be like).

Sizing and specifications will depend on your particular needs, but the lighter and resistant these are, the better. Jeez, I would love to build a prototype even with some ABS 3D printed stuff, painted with UV-resistant paint just to see how much time that material can hold on under our tropical conditions. 

With modern low friction coatings available, very hard aluminum alloys and all type of industrial developments, researching about this is something that people with time enough already should be doing. My lack of skills with the design 3D software has impeded me to work on my projects so much, that I’m considering seriously to get an online training. I would advise to work on this as an enjoyable task, as a team.

With a moderately advanced mechanical design software, you may even calculate how much RPMs and torque you could get out of your arrangement. Even before spending a single dollar in the build, and this can result in huge savings. If you don’t have the skills, ask for help. You will find these days a myriad of youngsters in places like fiverr.com and many others willing to make a few bucks online, in all kinds of specialties including mechanical design.

There are shops that will receive such design and CNC machine it for you, just in case you want to go down that path, in whatever reasonable material you ask for and they can afford. They will send it, and usually will call to confirm your specifications to make sure the part will fit your application.  

I am a metallurgist, but I have found modern polymers to be quite adequate for some of my crazy ideas. Metal parts are not easy to work with for those not used to this chores, especially steel, and precautions have to be made in any mechanism you want to build. In my case I’m recycling a few engine parts like sprockets, and attaching together several discarded motorcycle chains I can get for free, to transmit power vertically to the inferior axle, where a POT (power outtake transaxle) spins with an adapter ready for the tools or accessories to fit in.

Keep reading and you will see what I am talking about. Whether this results for you, can depend on your particular needs. My built will be mainly to see if I can avoid the conventional electrical setup. This way, the system will be something that could be used generation after generation, if maintained. If you want to see how this ends, stay tuned and wait for my come back and built articles!.   

In this apparatus, a few important pieces, product of modern industry improvements are there to ease our lives. Let’s talk a little bit about modern blades and bearings. 

For more info on windmills and turbine kits that you can easily order, check out this post.

Blades

One of them, is the highly efficient blades existing now. Sure we can build our own, too. In the past, these were made of wood and fabric, and were highly functional. Want to go that road? Great! Modern outdoor fabrics are cheap and easy to work with. Tons of free designs can be found if you want to manufacture your own turbine, whether vertical or horizontal. You may see the differences here.

Modern blades are within a certain range of parameters that makes them efficient. You may even purchase them already built, or can get some designs and templates to build your own. 

There is a huge controversy about using vertical or horizontal turbines, and I will leave that to your particular place. I will go with the vertical just because will use materials easy to find, and my location is not exactly windy the whole year.

At first, I will check the performance with a dynamo that can be mechanically disengaged off the shaft, allowing a tool to be attached to the POT that receives all of the wind energy available, and see how well this subsystem works feeding a battery rack.

Adjusting parameters like height and location (my intention is to grind the grain to feed poultry inside the chicken coop itself, to optimize space) will come after.  

Bearings

If we have something we didn´t had before, are the low-friction bearings. These are pieces of equipment intended to provide ultra-high efficiency, and we are so used to the comforts that we barely notice them. New coatings, high quality permanent lubrication, light weight but stronger alloys make this components to provide a smooth ride, while easier to make things spin.

If the antibiotics industry in the future, after a possible collapse must be rebuilt as soon as possible to assure the future of a modern medical field, I would say this is another of the milestones of the industry world that should be taken care of, given its crucial role in the efficiency of all kind of machinery.

This being said, these components will provide efficiency to our windmill, should we decided to build one (which I strongly suggest for those with skills) instead of buying a commercial one. 

Thanks for your reading and your wonderful comments!

Stay tuned!

Jose.

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