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General Electric Chasing the Wind

Published onDec 14, 2012
General Electric Chasing the Wind

General Electric, has been issued a patent to develop a spinner for wind turbines. The patent lists Stefan Herr from Greenville, S.C. and Peter Gauchel from Munster, Germany as the architects of the new turbine, which could prove significantly more efficient than present wind-turbine designs. In a time when crude oil resources are diminishing, green technologies, such as wind-energy, are being heavily invested in for the future. General Electric has been a major player in the green technology movement for many years now and it is no surprise that this company is seeking ways to improve on current “green” technologies available.

Although General Electric’s invention is not entirely new, U.S. Patent Statute, 35 U.S.C. 101 expressly states that improvements to previously patented inventions can be patentable. In the 2007 case, KSR v. Teleflex, the U.S. Supreme Court said that a patent application for an improvement of an invention must list the claims that demonstrate how the improvement is not only new and useful, but is not obvious to someone having ordinary skill in that particular technical field. GE’s application made 20 such claims.

The most significant claims seems to be for the inclusion of an additional spinner and its particular placement. In the patent abstract, the spinner is described as being mounted on the hub of a wind turbine where at least one rotor blade is connected. Current wind turbines in use have rotor blades with no good aerodynamic profile at the inner rotor section. Because of this shortcoming, when air flows through the inner rotor section, it just passes through the rotor of the wind turbine without being used for energy production. The potential kinetic energy of the wind that passes through the area being swept by the rotor blades is not used for energy production and the wind is essentially wasted.

The patent describes the new spinner as being mounted on the hub, covering a substantial portion of the inner rotor area. The spinner is positioned in front of the inner area of at least one rotor blade of the wind turbine to capture the wind that would otherwise escape unused. The back of the spinner also has a substantial smooth circumference to allow smooth airflow.

General Electric’s patent application does not totally redesign current wind turbine models, but it does increase their efficiency by recapturing wind that would otherwise pass through the turbines unused. This added spinner would likely greatly increase the amount of energy produced by any given wind turbine. The full patent application, filed on Jan. 24, 2008, can be found here.

* Rebeca Echevarria is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Politics, International Relations, and Biomedical Ethics from Mount Holyoke College. Upon graduation in May 2014, Miss Echevarria intends to practice Intellectual Property and Biotechnology law.

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