Apple’s patent filings today reveal one concept outside their usual product-focused applications, detailing a method for harnessing wind power in a manner different from that employed in traditional turbines. Electricity gathered from a wind turbine would be converted to heat energy and stored in a “low-heat capacity fluid” in Apple’s patent, allowing it to be tapped on an as-needed basis whenever the wind dies down.
It all gets pretty technical, but painted in broad strokes, the system would potentially use the motion of the rotor shaft moving against a “low-heat capacity fluid” (such as ethanol or mercury, for instance) to generate heat through friction between the two surfaces. This can then be transferred from the storage fluid to a working fluid which is then boiled off to release steam. The steam powers a turbine, converting the energy to usable form.
Apple’s system differs from basic wind-power generators that are highly subject to variances in wind power, as well as systems that use batteries to store energy made through rotational energy for later use when wind isn’t actively making that much power. Instead, it is designed to make wind power available on a more “on-demand” basis, which is of significant importance for facilities requiring a constant, uninterrupted power supply. That likely explains why Apple is pursuing this kind of tech:
Its massive data centers have huge power requirements, and the company has stated its commitment to harnessing wind, solar and other alternative energy sources to help keep these facilities running smoothly.
So far, Apple has been working mostly on building solar farms and biogas generators to help fulfill its energy needs at data center locations like the one it has in Maiden, NC, and competitor Google recently revealed that it has powered a data center with wind power for the first time.