Enter the Wind-Mobile!


Chinese Propeller CarSolar cars are fun – even if they’re not yet eminently practical (it’s hard to get enough electricity to continuously run a car from current solar panel technology), they’re still a great project. Solar power is, however, not the only source of renewable energy directly powering a motor vehicle: a farmer in China has built a wind-mobile.

Tang Zhenping from Peking put together a (sort of) wind-powered electric car, and he’s been making headlines with it around the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition. It’s not a production car, and it wasn’t made by a professional automaker, but the little wind-mobile seems to function fairly well all the same.

Not Quite A Perpetual Motion Machine

The apparent idea behind the wind-mobile is to use the wind generated by the car driving down the road to turn a propeller attached to the front of the car. Then, much like a standard wind turbine, the propeller works a generator which then charges a battery. The battery is then hooked into the car’s electric motor, which powers the car.

The propeller doesn’t produce enough power on its own to recharge the batteries, but it does help cut down on time between trips to the charging station – every little bit helps, and the propeller produces more power than drag. Think of it like regenerative braking – it doesn’t harvest all the energy expended during acceleration, but it improves range a little.

The car in question is 118” long and just 39” tall, with a top speed of 87mph, although there has been no report of actual practical battery range. It was apparently built in just three months, and cost less than $1600 to put together.

Brilliant or wacky? I rather like the idea, but tell me what you think, in the comments below.

Source | Image: Autobild.

About the Author

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.
  • Dicey

    No no no no no no no. Thermodynamics dictate this to be impossible. The spin the generator that the propeller is hooked up to, your motor needs to put out that amount of the power needed to spin it, plus the amount of power required to accelerate and maintain the speed of the vehicle. And it will increase the drag on the vehicle. This is going to decrease range rather than help extend the range.

    • You may be right. Please post formulas and math supporting your statements. 🙂

    • Tim Cleland

      It’s only thermodynamically impossible if he were claiming that the fan/generator was providing all the energy to move the car, which doesn’t appear to be the case. However, I still think it’s a bad idea. See my post below.

    • Marc P.

      Theoretically, you are correct. I’m no physicist, but I think that practically, at least as far as this design is concerned, you are wrong.
      I he put his fan a few inches away from the vehicle (top or side), where there was already no drag at all, then yes, it would actually reduce the range, but he put it in front of the vehicle where there is already a lot of drag, especially with that rather square front. Is there *much more drag* with the fan there ?… not sure. He certainly isn’t “creating” energy but I think he just may be extending the batterie’s range just a bit.

      Though, as someone said, a more aerodynamic form would be the most efficient way to go. I think my logic works only when you factor in the rather square front. BTW, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable going 87 mph in that contraption…

      • RobS

        If you have worked out that no energy has been created how then can it increase range a bit? You say it is theoretically correct that this cant work but practically wrong, that is the definition of magical thinking, you are saying ” it is physically impossible for this to work, but it does in this case”

        • Marc P.

          Ah… as far as magical thinking is concerned, maybe work with the facts…
          As best I can see, this car has a rather flat front. This flat front creates wind resistance. So far, am I magically thinking…??? O.k., second, although this fan exceeds the dimensions of this car’s flat front, it doesn’t do so that much. So far… is this clear. Let’s say, the fan was EXACTLY the same size as the flat front of the car, would it create any MORE drag than the flat front already does ? I don’t have a wind turbine in my back yard, but as far as I can figure out (I did say I was not a physicist…), I don’t see how this would create much more drag than the flat front already does. That’s my MAGICAL reasoning behind my not really educated guess.

          As the fan is larger than the front, then yes, it would probably create more drag than the car already creates with it’s own size.

          • clazy8

            He’d be better off putting a fiberglass cone over the front. Instead of “harvesting” air resistance, he should be reducing it. Anyhow, the air that moves the blades still has to spill over the front of the car. He gains nothing.

  • t_

    So, it can be done, even if it is not a production car and the guy maybe bolted it together himself. The cost is interesting. If one guy can buy the parts and they can cost him 1600 USD, so it should be quite possible for the electric cars to cost less…Even if the parts used for them are not of so high quality.

  • Tim Cleland

    He’d be better off just making the car more aerodynamic. I can see how this could be a net positive compared to a car that had a big solid disk placed where the fan is, but that’s not really relevant (the obvious solution would be to simply remove the big solid disk).

    This kind of solution could possibly be used for vehicles that absolutely had to have flat front ends (e.g., maybe certain kinds of trucks), but the better solution would always be to simply redesign the body shape for better aerodynamics.

  • The Cajun

    I am not surprised that many people think this stupidity will work but Charis Michelsen should know that this is indeed perpetual motion. It is quite disappointing to read rubbish from an author who should know better.

  • shecky vegas


  • Scott F.

    As others have already noted this can only make the car less efficient. It takes energy to turn that fan and generator and all of that energy is coming from the motor driving the car. Because the motor, fan, generator, wires and battery are all less than 100% efficient this can only reduce the mileage the car would be capable of it the fan and generator were removed. Folks who have commented about drag and claim that the fan wouldn’t add to drag, that would only be true if the fan were in such a “wind shadow” that it was unable to turn. If there is enough wind to turn the fan then it’s causing drag.

  • RobS

    ” the propeller produces more power than drag” This is the moment whatever tenuous grasp with reality that your article had was lost and you descended into perpetual machine magical logic fail.

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  • Werner

    Hi folks,
    I am a German biology and chemistry teacher and I recently happened to independently have had the same idea as the Chinese farmer Tang and asked a physics colleague and she reaffirmed that it would work to make the wind drag less. Note that the propeller, if positioned differently, could also rotate and create electricity when the wind is coming from behind the car. An intelligent design should direct the air after the propellor blades to avoid an increase in wind drag.

    • This is interesting, as I’ve fallen into the “not workable” camp … I’d like to hear her ideas on HOW this would work to reduce drag. I think that, if the prop is MOSTLY drag-nutral, it could be used to generate power, but the power generated would only be useful under braking, I would think.

  • Of course this works!!
    It is designed to draw attention for either marketing or investments, and as the past has shown, these over-unity hoaxes usually do both. Hey, I am a big FAN of this car!