Small wind turbine to be manufactured by Muskegon company

May 23, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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An unconventional small wind turbine for home owners, designed by a West Michigan engineer and manufactured by a Muskegon-based company, will go on sale at Ace Hardware stores starting in October, according to the company president.

Reg Adams, president of WindTronics, said his company will decide in early June where to build a $4.4 million plant that will employ up to 70 by the end of this year and perhaps more than 200 by the end of 2010. Despite the offer of $3.7 million in 10-year tax abatements from the Michigan Economic Growth Authority if the company chooses Muskegon, Adams said it would be "overzealous" at this point to conclude the WindTronic plant will be in Muskegon. He said WindTronics has also been considering a plant site in Oregon.

The WindTronics wind turbine, called the Honeywell 6000, was unveiled in early May at the 2009 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. Honeywell has entered into a distribution deal with WindTronics because it has a large number of consumer products aimed at the homeowner market.

The Honeywell 6000 turbine will retail for about $4,500 (not counting installation) and can produce up to 1.5 kilowatts of power, the same output as the Swift wind turbine being assembled by Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids. The Swift is being marketed to homeowners, businesses and organizations, and has an installed cost of about $10,000 to $12,000.

The Swift turbine blades sweep an area about seven feet in diameter, while the WindTronics turbine sweeps six feet in diameter and weighs less than 100 pounds. The WindTronics machine weighs less than a Swift and reportedly produces electricity at a lower wind speed. Both are designed to be mountable on a rooftop.

Adams said the WindTronics design is "the first patented technology for a blade tip power system," and was patented by Imad Mahawili, the former director of the Grand Valley State University Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon.

Mahawili, who still works in research at MAREC, is also WindTronics' "chief technical advisor," according to Adams.

In a conventional wind turbine, the wind forces blades to rotate, turning a shaft on which a copper coil spins inside a magnetic field caused by magnets, generating electricity from the coil. Conventional small turbines do not begin to spin until wind speed reaches seven to 10 miles per hour.

In Mahawili's invention, the magnets are in the tips of numerous blades, and the tips spin freely inside an outer ring that contains the coil. The 10-to-20 blades in the WindTronic design are attached to a hub suspended on a back frame. The hub spins freely, offering little resistance to rotation of the blades.

Adams said it is a "free wheeling turbine" with no gearbox or center generator, and he compared the WindTronics structural design to a child's pinwheel.

Adams said the WindTronics turbine "is actually starting to turn at less than a mile an hour of wind speed, and starts producing energy at just under two miles an hour.

"We are able to get a higher efficiency because obviously the tip speed is much faster than the shaft speed" in a conventional wind turbine, said Adams.

"In low wind areas," Adams said, the Honeywell 6000 "will be able to sufficiently produce about 15 percent of the average American home (electrical) demand."

Adams said WindTronics has plans for five facilities, one each in China, India, the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Vendors of parts for the Honeywell 6000 have already been selected and "we are in the process of making parts now," said Adams. He said some of those parts are being made in Michigan.

He said the company hopes to produce up to 5,000 Honeywell 6000 turbines each month by the end of this year.

Adams said the greatest impact in regard to new jobs won't be in the manufacturing and assembly of the WindTronics turbine, be in "the number of people it takes to do all these installations. You're talking about thousands of jobs."

Adams is also the president of EarthTronics Inc., which established corporate offices and research space in downtown Muskegon last summer. EarthTronics sells throughout the U.S. a wide variety of award-winning "green" energy-efficient CFL light bulbs manufactured in China.

WindTronics is a separate entity set up for production of the wind turbines the company has had in development for more than a year. Adams said WindTronics will use the EarthTronics marketing network, noting that the innovative small turbine is a good match with the energy-efficient lighting products EarthTronics already sells.

Adams said a year ago his company planned to produce an even smaller turbine that had been designed by Mahawili, using the same patented blade tip power system design as the Honeywell 6000. That earlier model had blades that swept an area about three feet in diameter.

Adams said last week his company still intends to produce the smaller version "but because of the demand for this turbine, we have moved ahead with the six-foot turbine and will not release the smaller turbine until probably spring" of 2010.

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