Dale Vince, CEO of the renewable energy company Ecotricity, and his enthusiastic vehicle engineer, Richard Jenkins, are camped out at Lake LeFroy, a huge salt flat in Western Australia. When weather conditions improve, Vince and Jenkins will be attempting to take back the wind-power land speed record from Bob Schumacher, whose Iron Duck has held the record at 116.7 mph since March 20th, 1999.
Greenbird, the vehicle the two Britons will be using, is the product of more than a decade of research and development. Its engineering is so advanced most casual observers would probably have a difficult time identifying it as a wind powered vehicle—or a vehicle at all for that matter.
Rather than a canvas sail, Greenbird’s signature feature is a hard sail. Making the most of engineering and design, the sail most closely resembles the wing of an aircraft, turned vertically. By using the aerodynamic features of the wing’s shape they will use not only the regular power of the wind, but the same physics that make the seemingly impossible lift-off of a Jumbo jet possible.
Just as the shape of an aircraft’s wing causes lift, the same forces provide forward motion for the Greenbird. The “lift” effect caused by the shape of the wing is redirected and pushes the wind car forward faster than the wind itself. According to the Greenbird website, it “is so efficient that it can travel at up to 3 to 5 times the true wind speed on land.”
But this is more than a cool science trick or a “crazy Brits” oddity story. There is also a sound commercial basis behind the project, as next year, the two men intend to begin production of a car that could harness free wind power to push the vehicle forward as well, providing high performance with no emissions.
This is not a new idea, but up until now it has seemed impractical because if a stiff wind isn’t blowing, a car would not move. By breaking the speed record by traveling faster than the surrounding wind-speed, Vince and Jenkins want to show the world that a wind powered vehicle is practical for everyday driving. Even if there is not a 60 mph wind to push a car along the freeway.