Oct 20, 2015 | By Kira
When it comes to clean energy, we recognize powerful water dams or entire fields of wind turbines as influential sources, capable of harvesting the forces of nature to power our homes, cars, or electronics. Yet these large-scale structures are also an excuse to continue relying on fossil fuels and non-renewable sources, since cities or politicians will often claim they don’t have the infrastructure or money to set them up. As an exercise in critical design, French designer Léo Sexer has developed a way to hack into existing urban wind sources—such as subway grates and air conditioning units—and harvest their power for personal use with a 3D printed ‘parasite’ he calls The Raflesia.
Inspired by New York artist Michael Rakowitz, whose 1998 project ParaSITE used custom built inflatable shelters for homeless people that attached to the exterior outtake vents of a building’s HVAC system to inflate and heat the structure, the main goal of Sexer’s project is to alert the public about untapped energy resources within the city. The hand-held Raflesia works by attaching itself to metallic grids through its magnetic legs and collecting the wind through an internal system of gears and motors. It can generate and store enough energy to charge electronic devices, such as smartphones or mP3 players, via a USB connection.
Sexer told 3Ders.org that he designed the turbine so that the maximum number of pieces could be produced on a desktop 3D printer (he used a MakerBot Replicator 2), including the propeller, legs, and internal parts for securing the propeller. It’s powered by an electronic system known as ‘boost’ that can charge batteries with up to 5V of power. “I wanted the object to be as simple as possible, much like the “liberator” gun 3D printed by Cody Wilson: it’s simple yet powerful,” he said. Though the final electronic system is still in development, he estimates that the Raflesia will be able to power any USB-connectable electronic device for up to 30 minutes after having been charged for roughly 20.
The design was prompted by a school project. As part of his program at ENSCI (the National School of Indsustrial Creation in Paris), the 24-year-old designer and HEAD graduate (University of Art and Design in Geneva) was challenged to rethink the concept of wind turbines. “Rather than being interested in the object itself, I was interested in the issue of electricity, which like any resource, is highly coveted,” he told 3Ders.org. “I found several examples of power line hacks—it’s a fairly common practice in some countries where people illegally tap lines to avoid paying!” Importantly, the Raflesia is a ‘harmless’ parasite, since it does not prevent the system to which it is attached from operating. In addition to public grates and ventilation systems, you could also attach it to your own air conditioning unit, balcony or fan.
Raflesia in action on the streets of Paris
In the spirit of [legally] tapping into the full potential of existing city resources, Sexer intends to make the Raflesia a fully open-source project so that people can download and 3D print the parts themselves. While it has not yet been commercialised, he also foresees selling pre-made assembly kits for those without 3D printers at home, or partnering with a 3D printing service such as Sculpteo. All non-3D printable parts, including the engine and gears, will be standard pieces that can be bought at local hobbyshops or online. Sexer said that the downloadable files will be available on his website in the very near future.
3D printing technology has already offered some very promising clean energy solutions that could help wean us off our deadly reliance on fossil fuels and other non-renewable sources. Still, many of these are large-scale industrial solutions that could take cities a long time to fully implement. Given its simplicity and potential for small-scale, individual use, the Raflesia is a very novel device that asks us to rethink our surroundings, and take advantage of existing energy sources, rather than simply taking them for granted.
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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Ant wrote at 11/1/2015 1:57:16 AM:
"This is not a "harmless" parasite and may not be legal at all. It takes power to push air through the building ventilation system and the building owner pays for that power. Any restriction added to the ductwork causes the ventilation system to consume more power to overcome the restriction." Working in construction for many years I've seen countless systems installed from the chiller units all the way to the vent grills and I've also seen the motors that drive them. (of course they vary in size and power. ) Overall, this device is not nearly large enough to cause a restriction in any sort of HVAC exhaust. You're talking about electrical motors that are extremely powerful. Putting one of these devices on a commercial HVAC exhaust duct would have no noticeable effect on the system. Like driving along the interstate and putting your hand out the window. You feel the resistance against your hand, and it may even push your arm backwards, but it definitely will not slow the car down despite your best efforts, the car is too powerful to notice the extra resistance. The motors are so powerful that they could easily chop up a human being like a blender if you were inside, it is so powerful it does not care about what's in the way. Hence the warning signs and lock-out tag-out procedures used while installing or servicing them for safety. Your thought process of the interactions are correct but they are so minute that they are not critical or concerning. The device is very aerodynamic too with an open design to allow the airflow to freely pass through it and around it. If anything those magnets will have to be pretty damn strong to hold onto some of the HVAC vents I've been around.
Kevin Wright, Designer/Inventor wrote at 10/22/2015 1:46:35 AM:
Some ventilation systems are merely passive systems that allow for natural airflow and can produce VERY powerful wind currents. Based on rising heat, vacuums, etc. Regarding potential losses to the 'owners'... any such source of energy on *public* buildings or facilities is fair game, provided there is no deliberate damage. It would take a LOT of these tiny devices to disrupt or damage a large mechanical exhaust system.
Lurking reader wrote at 10/20/2015 10:25:04 PM:
Obstructing airflow of a vent causes the vent fan to work harder, and in a balanced system, that means it is no longer balanced, and therefore less efficient. It is not "free" energy.
gem wrote at 10/20/2015 4:31:03 PM:
This is not a "harmless" parasite and may not be legal at all. It takes power to push air through the building ventilation system and the building owner pays for that power. Any restriction added to the ductwork causes the ventilation system to consume more power to overcome the restriction. These turbines convert the energy of the moving exhaust air into electricity, not creating the electric energy from nothing but converting it from the air's kinetic energy, which is provided by the building's ventilation fans. So these little turbines are causing the fans to work harder, consuming more electricity, and so the turbines are indirectly and inefficiently tapping into the power lines to bleed off electricity for unauthorized use... just another form of a power line hack, illegally tapping lines to avoid paying but none-the-less taking electrical power for which the building owner ends up paying.