The land yacht based on a simple frame with wheels and a small sail has been around for a long time and it was only a matter of time before something revolutionary happened to bring the concept into the 21st century.
Enter the wind turbine on wheels and a team of aerospace students from Stuttgart University, in Germany, who earlier this year won a race with their “ventomobile”.
While it took the students many months of intense construction work to reach this goal, the concept is really simple – a low-slung chassis with three wheels and a turbine mounted in a rotatable nozzle driving through a variable transmission to the rear axle.
The Stuttgart machine features a carbon-fibre chassis in order to maximise strength while minimising weight. The air-smooth fairing that protects the driver was taken from the body of a single-seat glider and adapted for the purpose.
The efficiency of this set-up, which was put through wind-tunnel trials during its development, proved to be extremely good – so good, in fact, that in August, Stuttgart’s Team InVentus carried off the top prize at a three-kilometre race held at Den Helder.
Five teams from different European universities and research institutes competed in the pioneering “Racing Aeolus”. The challenge was to sail straight into the wind solely driven by the power of wind.
In the Club of Pioneers race report, Jan Lehmann, of InVentus, said about the vehicle’s performance that it had always been “fantastic” to drive. However, not all the planned races were held – and the InVentus machine was not immune to problems.
“In the first race, our bicycle components failed in 35kph wind, just one metre after the finish line. We repaired the gear mechanism in a flash and were able to race again shortly afterwards. We then immediately set the speed record – 1.2km in 3 minutes 13 seconds. Our driving speed was around 64% of the wind speed,” said Lehmann.
“There was a lot less wind on the second day (15kph). Most of the cars didn’t even race, which was a real shame. We had a lot of room for movement in terms of our transmission because of our bicycle components, and we were able to cover the two-kilometre track well.
“Our closest competitor on this day was the Danish team (DTU). In the race to decide everything, they even got out to a lead of around 10m over us. But 100m before the finish, the track went slightly uphill. We were able to change down and get more power from the wind. The Danes didn’t have that option and we pulled past them in the last second. It was absolutely thrilling.”
The Aeolus competition will be run again in 2009. Maybe a Scottish team can be pulled together for that?