An unlikely Tunisian startup is hoping to bring wind power into the 21st century by employing technology first developed thousands of years ago.
Saphon Energy was founded in 2009 by a Tunisian banker, Hassine Labaied, and his inventor friend of two decades, Anis Aouin. The duo teamed up to create an entirely novel and yet instantly recognizable new type of wind energy harvester that relies on no blades, or moving parts, whatsoever.
Instead, Saphon’s “Zero Blade” technology uses a stationary circular sail, approximately 4 feet in diameter, attached to the top of a pole. As the wind moves the sail back and forth, a hydraulic system captures the kinetic energy and converts it into mechanical energy. The system can also store the mechanical energy as hydraulic pressure, to be deployed later, when there is no wind.
“The sail boat is still the best system for capturing and creating energy from the wind, and it does so without blades,” Labaied told TPM in a telephone interview.
The system is designed to exceed the currently theoretical and physical maximum of wind turbine efficiency, the Betz law, which finds that the top efficiency attainable by a wind turbine is 59.3 percent.
Saphon believes its technology exceeds that limit and provides the added benefit of being cheaper and less noisy than common wind turbines, as well as less dangerous to birds, who can get trapped in the blades of other wind turbines. Check out Saphon’s promotional video on its technology:
So far, Saphon has constructed two working prototypes of its first generation “Saphonian” device from scratch in Tunisia which have attained two to three times the efficiency of a common “three blade” wind turbine, Labaied told TPM.
“People around the globe got so obsessed with improving the three blade technology, but that was like a box to us,” Labaied said. “We said, ‘why don’t we try to think outside the box,
and for us that meant non-rotational and no blades.”
The company is currently working on its second-generation product and a third prototype, according to Labaied.
“Even though we already have this technology we’re working further to optimize the design,” Labaied explained.
But already, Saphon has attracted international attention, with Labaied being invited to speak at the last minute at the TED Global 2012 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 28.
Whether his technology takes off quite as quickly as his company’s ambitions remains to be seen.