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Wasted wind

TORONTO, Ont. -Who has seen the wind? Former owner/operator and part-time professional driver Larry Cater has, and he likes what he sees. Specifically, Cater has seen the potential in harnessing the draft generated by transport trucks and...

TORONTO, Ont. –Who has seen the wind? Former owner/operator and part-time professional driver Larry Cater has, and he likes what he sees. Specifically, Cater has seen the potential in harnessing the draft generated by transport trucks and converting it to household electricity.

It may seem far-fetched, but Cater has patented his idea for a Traffic Driven Wind Energy Generator, or as he prefers to call it, ‘Green Truck Lanes.’

“Being a victim of the road for a number of years, I’ve realized there’s substantial wind out there that’s unharnessed, so I went looking for a way to harness the energy from the road,” Cater told Truck News in a recent interview. The former owner/operator sold his truck two years ago and invested the money into his invention while continuing to drive a company truck part-time. Cater comes from an inventive family; his father sold two patents in the 1960s, one of which was in use until recently.

Cater has developed three variations of a system that would take the wind created by transport trucks and other vehicles and then convert it to electricity. The first consists of a modified jersey barrier, which would line medians on existing highways such as the 401. In addition to preventing vehicles from crossing into oncoming traffic, Cater’s barriers would house thousands of turbines, each capable of carving a half-metre swath and producing two kilowatt hours (kW-h) of power. Each metre of modified jersey barrier would produce 16 kW-h of electricity based on current traffic volumes, meaning a one-kilometre stretch would produce enough energy to power 160,000 homes, Cater said.

What really has him excited though, are two larger versions of his system called Green Truck Lanes, which have been designed specifically to take advantage of the extra wind generated by transport trucks.

One is a right-hand lane system that would be retrofit on the existing highway with turbines above and to the right of the right-hand lane of the highway, where trucks spend most of their time. The other would be a standalone system, one kilometre in length, which would require trucks to pull off the current highway and travel through a tunnel-like Green Truck Lane with turbines located above and on both sides of the trucks. This maximizes the capture of wind and provides trucks with a dedicated travel lane.

Cater’s standalone Green Truck Lanes would house 48 turbines per metre, each able to generate 5 kW-h of electricity. Every one-kilometre stretch of Green Truck Lane, Cater calculates, could produce enough electricity to power 300,000 homes.

“I need three trucks a minute to fuel that (projection),” Cater said.

He has already found sites along the 401, which he feels are perfectly situated to house the Green Truck Lanes. They would run parallel to the existing highway, making it simple for trucks to leave and rejoin the highway.

For validation, Cater took his idea to the University of Toronto and was pleased that “they have not laughed me off the face of the earth.”

In fact, Cater has since partnered with a UofT professor who helped him file the patent. The challenge, of course, is raising enough capital to create a computer simulation and then to develop a prototype.

That won’t come cheap, and neither will building the Green Truck Lanes once the concept is validated. Cater estimates it will cost about $30 million to build every one-kilometre of Green Truck Lanes while the modified jersey barriers could be deployed for as little as $12-$14 million per kilometre. However, when compared to a conventional wind farm, those prices seem like a bargain. Cater said a 450-tower wind farm (which would generate about as much electricity as one kilometre of Green Truck Lane) would cost $1.5 billion -with a B -to construct.

And unlike conventional wind farms, which require cooperation from the weather to function effectively, the Green Truck Lanes will produce electricity around the clock.

“My wind farms can run 24/7,” Cater said. “Present wind farms are only running at about 22% capacity because they’re only working when it’s really windy and that’s not very often.”

In fact, Cater said he got the idea for his invention when passing a wind farm in New York State on a regular run and noticing, “all the windmills on the top of the mountain were sitting idle,” he recalled. “Every time I went by there, they were sitting, not turning, not making any energy.”

As for which of his systems Cater like to see adopted first, he’d lean towards the standalone Green Truck Lanes as the most viable.

But finding sources of funding to further develop the project has proven difficult, he admits. The money he received when he sold that truck two years ago is just a drop in the bucket in terms of the cost of developing the system, and so he’s on the hunt for government funding.

“It’s like pulling teeth with new projects,” he lamented. Still, Cater’s not giving up. He’s currently participating in a contest run by Pepsi that will reward start-up funding to the winning green technology-based business plan and he’s continuing to apply for grants. In the meantime, he keeps his expectations in check.

“I would love to see this built within my lifetime,” he says. “I don’t know if it will happen or not.”

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2 Comments » for Wasted wind
  1. Kevin Brulotte says:

    If your plan is viable you will be able to get investers, don’t try leaching off of the taxpayers via government grants as a lot of us taxpayers are sick and tired of hairbrained “green” ideas we have to pay for!

  2. Sam says:

    Were trying to reduce emissions. Not encourage them. Mother nature provides enough wind power and solar power. Hint…. Work with magnets. They retain their potential for a hundred years. 0 consequences. Unless you have a pacemaker.

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