Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, is serving as host this summer for EXPO 2017. Inventors, companies and scientists throughout the world are presenting their research and vision of the way new technologies can change the future. Represented among them are Kazakh nationals, including Blok Shaikenov, who says he has invented a new type of wind generator with increased efficiency. The device is the result of the engineer’s 12 years of work. In an interview with The Astana Times, Shaikenov spoke about how his invention can improve lives.
Your interesting model has an unusual form of blade. What is it called?
We call it a wind wheel with angled blades. I have shared this invention with my junior son, Yerzhan Shaikenov.
A wind turbine is a highly complex device consisting of many components. Why did you specifically choose a wind wheel?
Yes, a wind turbine is almost like a separate electric power station that includes a number of installations and mechanisms with different functions. There are three main units in it, namely a tower, a nacelle with a generator and other mechanisms inside and a head attached to it with blades. Almost one-third or more of the cost comes from the tower with its installation. The more power you have, the higher the need to raise the nacelle and blades, and the more expensive the foundation. Maintenance of an operating turbine is also expensive.
In recent years, a successful wind turbine design was found which greatly influenced the development of wind power and led to a significant reduction in the cost of electricity generated. However, the main mechanism that turns the kinetic energy of the wind flow is the blade. Its design features have been changed many times and have undergone aerodynamic tests. At present, they have already found the shapes, length, width, thickness and curvature of the angle of attack at the edge of the blade which suit the manufacturers in terms of their aerodynamic parametres, although they may differ slightly from one plant to another.
Why did you start changing the structure of the blades? How did it all begin?
I first saw wind turbines in California, USA, in March 2005. At the time, my senior son worked in the headquarters of the Chevron Company in San Ramon. He invited me to visit America. Two weeks after my arrival, my son took a week-long leave and we went for a tour across the region and on the way back visited famous Yosemite National Park, where ancient sequoias grow. When we left the mountains on the border with the plain, we stopped in a field where there were a lot of wind turbines and black and white and red cows grazed. We stopped and had some tea.
I was always interested in new machines. I used to find some defects in them and designed something in my mind. In our time, everything was heavily regulated; it was terribly hard to implement something and much remained just a pleasant idea.
For a long time I was interested in wind turbines. They had three blades with 120 degrees between them and they rotated slowly. I asked my son how they rotate. He laughed and said “from wind, of course.” He is a lawyer, a humanities-minded person, but millions of others would answer the same way. They are right. But I thought differently: what part of the wind flow passes through the blade platform and participates in turning the blade? After all, 120 degrees are between the blades and with the distance from the blade roots the space between them widens. Surely in the tip part of the blades most of the wind flows in vain, without exerting any influence on the rotational movements of the wind wheel. Figuratively speaking, the wind has gone with the wind! Money goes with the wind as well and no one can be blamed. It seemed to me that the search for a change in the design of the wind wheel would surely be a success. I returned to Almaty with this strong opinion.
I am a son of a blacksmith who became the chairperson of a communal farm and headed it for 17 years. Blacksmiths are people with a wilful character, for whom someone else’s opinion has little value. I also share this wilful character and I was sure that I was absolutely right, although I knew that hundreds of good engineers were working on the design of blades. I have been holding my opinion for 12 years, getting a lot of bruises from failures and lack of money, until one fine day at 6:30 am in Kapshagai, north of Almaty, I saw that my “angled beauty” was spinning faster than its straight predecessor.
What were the next steps? Which way led to your ideas?
I gradually began to study special literature on wind turbines, wind generators, shape, design, configuration of blades, strength of materials and aerodynamics. First, I studied literature in Russian in various libraries and then examined translated materials. In 2008, I left my main job and began to study patents for wind turbines and wind generators issued in Kazakhstan, Russia, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, the U.S. and other countries. I worked on that for three years. I made and created different models, but when I studied many patents, I realised my models were not based on new ideas but already repeated-known analogues. So, I lost two-three years. These were years of mistakes.
It was after this that I defined the key directions of my research. There are two types of wind generators, with vertical rotation and with a horizontal axis of rotation. Vertical-axis wind turbines are predominantly ground wind turbines, the efficiency of which is 3-5 percent. They do not require wind orientation, but it is impossible to create more powerful electrical installations on their basis. They can only be used locally in certain settlements. Therefore, I concentrated all my attention on horizontal-axis wind turbines, in particular, on the possibility of changing the design of the blades.
It is not so easy. There are giants that use straight blades. As I said, a lot of engineers work there, so it is very difficult to break the established rules. They face you like rocks and thinking that there are some other forms or possibilities looks like raising your hand to something sacred, things established once and for all.
I intuitively believed that the shape of the blades can be changed. Therefore, I began to create different forms of blades. I tried to set the angle to the head; there was something else about the axis of rotation. However, another idea suddenly dawned on me: there is a need to fasten a short additional link along the supposed axial line of the blade installation while retaining the angular position of fastening to the link of the long blade.
A number of technical difficulties arose. To eliminate them, there was a need to have another short link which is attached to the axial part and the long wing-shaped blade is connected to the end of the last link. So, there was a short part of the blade with an elbow bend, which changed the whole design of the wind wheel. This was the beginning of the invention.
Why do you think the blade design you invented has an advantage over traditional straight blades?
A wind-wheel with blades is a lever. To answer your question, you should recall the law of the lever. All those items that produce movements and perform operations move on the basis of the law of the lever. The classical law of the lever says the torque is equal to the lever arm – the distance between the centre of rotation and the point of application of force. In our case, the centre of rotation is the main axis of the turbine, and the place where the force is applied is the place where the blade is attached to the head of the turbine. We drastically changed the design of the blades. In the design of the blades of the wind wheel, an additional link appeared that broke the neat figure of straight blades. Instead of it, an angled blade appeared, similar to a hockey stick but with a more powerful force of kinematic transmission of the wind flow.
What are the prospects for the use of your invention in wind energy?
We produced and tested the model using industrial generators. We purchased two small wind turbines of 1 kW in Germany. One of them was equipped with our construction’s short component, with an elbow bend between the head and blade; the other one with a straight element of the same length. Recorders were connected to generators of each turbine to show five parameters of the generator’s operation. Then, the recorders were connected to portable computers. The rotation of the rotors was also recorded by video cameras. The test was held in Kapshagai over 11 days. The windmill with blades with the elbow bend rotated 0.5-3.5 times faster than those with straight blades, and produced 0.5-3.5 times more electric power. This is an exceptionally high result! With no exaggerations – this is an innovation that contributes to world wind power production technology.
Now, the cost of electric energy produced by wind power stations is 20-25 percent more expensive compared to electric energy produced by thermal power plants. In the meantime, the lion’s share of the cost is composed of foundation, installation and maintenance expenses.
After the Fukushima disaster, many countries began paying more attention to the development of wind energy. For instance, Germany builds wind stations on seashores and sea shelf, developing so-called offshore fields. There, these installations create no obstacles to other activities, and the state actively supports this initiative, financing additional expenses.
However, China is a leader in terms of production rates of wind turbines and wind stations. All countries with less advanced wind energy have pivoted to the production of this type of energy. The Earth’s climate warming has already brought many disasters and huge economic damage. That is why this is the most reasonable way to avoid many problems.
The new structure of windmills with angled blades may radically change the production of wind turbines and wind energy in general. We believe that application of our structure of blades will double the efficiency coefficient of rotors. This allows for the use of more powerful generators and decreasing the weight of the tower, nacelle and other mechanisms and materials. The cost of electric energy produced by wind turbines will decrease profoundly, and this will raise demand for wind energy.
We formalised our inventions with five patents in Kazakhstan, although these need to be recognised in international bodies. Independently of this, individual producers can use our invention and manufacture products using our windmill. In this regard, some legal issues will emerge. No doubt they can be resolved by mutual agreement. Nevertheless, it is better to launch in the country our own production of short blade components with elbow bends, or in joint factories with other countries. In this case, we can re-equip already existing wild turbines and fit them with more powerful generators. Having the same parameters of tower, nacelle and length of blades, the windmill will generate at least twice as much electric energy.
Actually, wind energy production in Kazakhstan really took off only two to three years ago. There are places in the country, as at the Dzungar Gates, the north coast of the Caspian Sea, the Kordai Pass and Sugatin Valley, where strong enough wind blows 220-230 days a year. Currently, wind stations operate at the Kordai Pass, in Yerementau [Aqmola Oblast], Chilik and Kapchagai [Almaty Oblast]. We are pleased to offer our invention for tests and application in new wind energy turbines to be used in these regions. We hope that this will boost the development of wind energy in our country.
What are the benefits of demonstrating your model at EXPO 2017?
The world has become unified. Kazakhstan is at the centre of its vital transformations. The country is gradually moving from agricultural status to industrial. We have everything to accomplish that: rich mineral resources, a diverse natural environment, and the most important is that we have a responsive and educated population.
EXPO 2017 is a bright example of these transformations. Astana itself deserves special notice; the city became one of the most beautiful capitals of the world only in 19 years. Now, we have a city full of sparkling glass, made with labour and love. The whole architecture is futuristic, something abstract and conducive to dreaming. I carefully studied the laced steel reinforcing on the seventh floor of the Nur Alem sphere [Kazakhstan’s national pavilion at EXPO 2017]. I am sure that there are thick, twisted tubes inside, but they are so beautifully covered by marvelous material, supposedly made of aluminium or other alloys, that I could not find any flaws on their joints. It means that the construction of the expo buildings has brought the culture of construction to the level of art. Ninety percent of tourists visit Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower and to see Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Similarly, I hope people will come to our country to see the EXPO 2017 site.
Nature has provided our country with sufficient energy resources. Nevertheless, the most beautiful part of EXPO 2017 is its motto: developing alternative and renewable energy to ensure future development for human civilisation.