Credit : JF Deroubaix

A new wind is blowing through urban wind trees

Visually redesign a wind turbine and provide a good quality local electricity service is the promise met by the Arbre à Vent - made in France and designed by the start-up NewWind.

Leaves rustling in the trees gave NewWind’s founder his inspiration for the wind tree – a biomimetic, whimsical urban wind turbine that is just perfect for cities.

Technological innovations often start with a simple observation. Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, founder and CEO of NewWind since 2011, is the perfect example. Watching the leaves rustling in the garden he came up with the idea of a biomimetic wind turbine - tree shaped, it would harvest energy otherwise lost from the wind and air currents. Convinced his idea would work, Jérôme Michaud-Larivière abandoned his old life as a television and film screenwriter to focus on his invention full-time.

His "Arbre à Vent" took root after three and a half years of research and development. Exit the huge masts and the impressive but noisy blades, the Arbre à Vent was going to be beautiful, useful, efficient and quiet. Each leaf, called an "Aeroleaf", is a microturbine equipped with a microprocessor which extracts the maximum amount of power from the available wind.

10 meters tall and with 63 Aeroleafs, the tree captures the wind from any direction with an installed capacity of 4.1 kW. Based on the average wind harvest over a year, NewWind claims that its model can provide lighting for 455 meters of highway – the equivalent of 15 street lamps, or 71 outside parking spaces - or can provide 83% of the electricity consumption of a household, excluding heating.

All that was left was to visually design the nature-inspired wind turbine. Claudio Colucci’s whimsical, organic design brought the Arbre à Vent to life. There is a central trunk and the leaves are positioned in a seemingly chaotic way in order to capture the maximum amount of air movement.

High visibility during the COP21

Two prototypes, 98% made in France, have been installed, one in 2013 in the Charente-Maritime area, and the other in 2014 at the Cité des Télécoms in Brittany. Two were on display at Le Bourget during COP21 and have since been uprooted and replanted - one at Roland Garros, the other at La Défense.

In 2015, pre-production began under real-life conditions in order to validate the industrial process. Local authorities and French, Swiss and German companies are partnering the pre-production: the Unibail shopping center in Germany, the Piguet Galland bank in Geneva, the city of Vélizy-Villacoublay, and the company Icade for its business park in Aubervilliers.

Although the tree costs 46,500 euros before sales taxes, NewWind is also considering more affordable versions for the general public in the form of "branches" or "bushes". Mixed systems - wind and solar - are also under consideration as the Aeroleaf’s modularity has been arousing a great deal of interest among architects.

The Arbre à Vent has received numerous awards, including one from the Nicolas Hulot Foundation in 2015 and the jury and public’s first prize in the innovation awards held by the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers.

In 2016, the some 60 planned plantations – from Saint-Brieuc to the Université de Rouen - should finally prove that beautiful, useful, high tech, whimsical and sustainable can coexist in the sustainable city of the future.

Main picture: JF Deroubaix

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