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Chinese farmer finds way to add horse power, chipping away at pollution

December 10th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Following is a report on Chinese farmer, Tang Zhengping, who comes up with a novel way to harness wind energy to give cars extra horse power. That in turn reduces fuel consumption. It’s a great story in so many ways. For one, I wish more Chinese farmers are untied to their land so they have time and resource to pursue their dreams. China does not lack ideas, but rather markets big enough for ideas to come to fruition. And it takes stable and sustainable development to get there. I certainly won’t mind a ride in the back of his car.

  1. hezudao
    December 11th, 2012 at 01:24 | #1

    I actually find they do have many innovative ideas and they don’t lack creativity. However, Some of the designs and innovations are quite wacky and probably not best for commercial use.

  2. December 11th, 2012 at 05:54 | #2

    The news reporting seems inaccurate or misleading. It said that the car was pollution free and electric but isn’t this car just a hybrid? Once the car gets to 40 MPH, the turbine starts generating electric power which adds horsepower to the car. But to get there the car is running on a gas engine? That’s what hybrids do and hybrids certain are not “pollution free”.

  3. December 11th, 2012 at 14:15 | #3

    Doesn’t seem very practical, to be honest, at least not in urban areas where most cars operate & pollute (may be a different story in rural areas). How often can cars actually travel at 40+ MPH in a city like Beijing or Shanghai? You’d be lucky if you were going 30, unless you’re driving in the middle of the night.

    Besides, wouldn’t the additional air resistance (& the corresponding additional gas consumption) offset any gains made by the wind turbine?

  4. FOARP
    December 13th, 2012 at 23:57 | #4

    The stupid is just so powerful in this story that I had to comment. The BBC journalist should have known better or at the very least wasn’t paying attention during her high-school science classes, and I’m surprised to see yinyang approvingly reposting it since I was under the impression that he has a background in technology.

    Basically, as Mister Unknown points out, conservation of energy says that you cannot get more energy out of a system than you put in. In this case, this means that any gains from power generated will be balanced by increased fuel consumption caused by increased wind resistance on the turbine.

    Having worked in technology in China, I am in no way under the misimpression that the Chinese are incapable of innovating. This, however, is not a true example of technological innovation.

  5. December 14th, 2012 at 22:28 | #5

    lol. Okay, I have to admit, I was a bit too naive when posting this. Agreed, it’s not practical. But then, a farmer piecing together a car with these concepts – that’s wicked cool. Imagine if he’s had an education from Fudan or some top tier university with modern technology and capital. This was really what I was after.

  6. perspectivehere
    December 15th, 2012 at 04:14 | #6

    What is fun about this story is the incongruity of “chinese farmer” and “inventor”.

    There used to be a time when the individual inventor was praised as heroic in the Western world. This was the time of “gentleman scientists” and the popular imagination was ignited by the creative genius of these people. However, in the middle 20th century, in line with WW2 military spending, “big science” began to dominate, where individual effort mattered less than entire research teams and programs, together with substantial sums of government funding. The individual inventor disappeared, except for those who managed to turn their attention to creating popular consumer products, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (who was more a skilled marketer rather than inventor).

    We have certain popular stereotypes in America about Chinese farmers. In the old days (1930s) it was images offered up by books like “The Good Earth” of long-suffering, stoic stolid workhorses faced with outmoded practices and lacking the benefit of education and science. In the post-1949 images depicted of the Chinese revolution we see the “standing up” of China led by the biggest peasant of all, Mao, a fiery destroyer of urban and “foreign” sophistication, who in his uneducated brutish ignorance pursued such nonsense like backyard steel furnaces. Since the 1978 reforms, we have images of farmers as victims of rampant urbanization and land confiscation by local governments.

    But here we have a different image, the Chinese farmer as Thomas Edison, tinkering in his backyard to come up with something which might improve life for all, together with a most symbolic invention – the inexpensive automobile – which brings in images of another great American inventor and innovator, Henry Ford.

    The fact that this invention may fail to get off the ground is no reason to pooh-pooh it. Anyone watching this video who has taken a physics course will know about conservation of energy. So what? “It ain’t going to work” is the nay-saying mentality for failure which many people have.

    Thomas Edison was famous for not being discouraged by failure. Some purported quotes:

    “I have not failed, not once. I’ve discovered ten thousand ways that don’t work.”

    “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work.”

    “I now know 999 different ways that won’t work.”

    In one variant of the tale Edison is asked if he is discouraged and replies cheerfully:

    “Not at all, for I have learned fifty thousand ways it cannot be done and therefore I am fifty thousand times nearer the final successful experiment.”

    Edison’s biography shows his spirit of inventiveness was related to the times in which he lived – a time of great technological change, when ways of life and production were changing almost daily. He came from the midwest, from a part of the US where farming and railroads were a part of life. Edison was one of a whole generation of 20th century inventors that defined the modern age and whose inventions created the everyday products of modern life.

    It seems that China is going through this kind of revolutionary change and its not surprising that peasant-inventors are emerging. I say, more power to them, may they live out their dreams and inspire others with their inventiveness and creativity.

    It should not be surprising that China would have a lot of those kinds of people. The thing about farmers is (and America used to be full of them) is that they are mentally geared towards producing things out of nothing. They are the most practical people in the world, and yet they also understand what it means to invest time labor and resources into planting seeds that could yield fruit, but might also failure.

    More power to them. Dreaming big dreams of the future and having a chance to build it is what life in China is all about for many now, Tang Zhengping being one of them. Good news report and kudos to the reporter.

  7. perspectivehere
    December 15th, 2012 at 05:35 | #7

    “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy–sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

    Thomas Edison

  8. December 17th, 2012 at 20:59 | #8

    Great perspective and I really appreciated that.

    A story I often repeat is that Nike shoe designers often are sent to cities in China (or Asia in general) to ‘observe’ what fashions sell well and then bring those ‘inspirations’ back to U.S. headquarters for coming up with new products. You now have Neil Cavuto insinuating Li Xiaojie for wanting to buy extra iPhone’s as “stealing IP.” There is truth and then there is narrative.

  9. Charles Liu
    December 21st, 2012 at 08:48 | #9


    System conservation and energy efficiency are two different things, genius. One can say the same thing about “regenerative breaking” common in most hybrid electric cars today, following your illogic.

    It’s not about conservation of energy, rather increasing efficiency thru recapturing spent energy. The wind recharger may help extend the range of electric cars. Once a car reaches highway speed why not take advantage of the inertia and wind to recharge the battery?

    I remember reading Popular Mechanics in late 80’s about a electric Honda CRX towing a generator. I’m sure some people laughed at it. That was the precursor to today hybrid electric.

  10. December 21st, 2012 at 21:35 | #10

    @Charles Liu

    Exactly! For us to know how efficient the vehicle is we’d have to do some tests, tests FOARP clearly don’t have a clue how to conduct. He doesn’t even understand the basic laws of conservation.

  11. perspectivehere
    December 22nd, 2012 at 01:58 | #11

    @Charles Liu

    How about these ideas, which fly in the face of skepticism:

    Ford to Explore Wind Turbines on Car Roofs

    “Most solutions for the clean cars of the future focus on plug-in electric vehicles, fuel cells, biofuels or hydrogen. Last month, Ford added a twist to this mix when it agreed to look at a wind turbine and generator system for motor vehicles invented by Edward Deets.

    Deets owns U.S. Patent No. 7,135,786 (’786 patent), which covers a wind-driven generator that can use wind power to charge the battery that runs an electric motor. The ’786 patent describes an enclosure with controllable shrouds (16) that can open and close to channel air to turbine (18).

    The rotational energy of the turbine causes an alternator or generator to generate electricity, which charges the storage battery (52). A regulator (50) prevents overcharging of the battery.

    According to the CitizensVoice article, Deets, who has a pilot license, was inspired by the use of wind to run electric motors on older airplane models….”

    Wright Twp. man submits patent for energy-saving device to Ford Motor Co.

    “Aug. 25–WRIGHT TWP. — If you’re driving down the road one day with a fan on the roof of your car, you may have Ed Deets to thank for inventing the energy-saving device.

    Two weeks ago, Deets submitted a patent for a wind-driven generator for powered vehicles to Ford Motor Co., where the company’s engineers will hopefully review the plans and make a prototype model.

    “I’m not looking for a lot … Just so it helps the country,” Deets said of the profits that might be realized from the invention.

    In today’s hybrid electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius, a gasoline motor powers the battery that runs the electric motor of the vehicle. Deets’ invention uses a fan to harness wind power and charge the battery, eliminating the need for a engine that runs on gasoline and regular visits to filling stations.

    “I’m hoping to go to Florida without even stopping,” Deets said.

    Deets received about 50 letters wanting to market the device, but Deets decided to go right to a manufacturer, choosing one of the first automobile makers in the country.

    Deet said he chose Ford Motor Co. for its history and how Henry Ford helped shape the United States, with the production of automobiles and his pioneering use of the assembly line.

    As owner of Deets Holding Co. and its subsidiaries, including Auto-Bus, North East Transfer Inc. and Deets Rinehimer School Bus Lines, Deets knows his way around transportation vehicles, including those that take to the air instead of roads.

    Deets obtained his pilot license in 1969 and was a base operator at the Hazleton Municipal Airport during the oil crisis in the mid-1970s, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries placed an embargo of shipments of oil to the United States.

    That’s when Deets first got the idea to make a wind-powered generator for an vehicle powered by an electric motor.

    “I thought they’re must be some way to get around this, to help out,” he said.

    Deets was inspired by the effect of wind, including how it was used to run small electric motors that powered the lights on earlier models of planes….”

    Or the Tickoo Wind Turbine, built by Sham Tickoo, Mechanical Engineering Technology Professor at Purdue University

    “The field of invention is related to wind turbines that use the wind to create energy. The primary application of this invention will be in charging the batteries of an automobile when it is in motion. The batteries thus charged can be used to run the vehicle and its accessories.”


    I found the above links in this interesting online discussion between an engineering student and netizen commenters. The engineering student proposed the possibility of using wind turbines in vehicles, and how it could be made to work. The basic concept is that a fast-moving car faces significant wind-resistance. If some of that wind-resistance could be converted into energy and stored, this would be a net gain, like a moving brick versus a moving wind turbine. Since you have drag anyway, why not convert some of that drag to stored energy? There are plenty of naysayers on that forum too.

    Here is a wind-powered car that crossed Australia.

    This is a cutie: Best Inventions of 2007 – Autonomous Automobile

    “The trouble with most green-concept cars is that they require regular “refueling” with hard-to-get hydrogen or ethanol. The Venturi Eclectic runs solely on wind and solar power. Solar cells blanket the rooftop, and a wind turbine provides extra juice. When that’s not enough, a backup electric outlet can recharge the three-seat Eclectic in five hours. “

    And this one showed that smart and innovative engineering can defeat the naysayers who use physics to argue something cannot be done, when actually, it is their limited understanding of physics and underestimation of another’s ingenuity that prevents them from trying:

    Wind-Powered Car Travels Downwind Faster Than the Wind

    “Rick Cavallaro and his friends have built a wind-powered vehicle that travels downwind faster than the wind, solving a riddle that can start fights.

    The unusual wind-powered car hit a top speed 2.86 times faster than the wind during one recent run, a feat that — depending upon your perspective — is either the result of hard work or the same voodoo responsible for Ryan Seacrest’s hair.

    The counterintuitive idea that you can travel downwind faster than the wind is casus belli for aerodynamic arguments from internet forums to college classrooms. The concept known as DWFTTW can cause world-renowned physicists to throw their Nobel Prizes in fits of rage.

    “People’s intuition is extremely strong on the topic,” Cavallaro, an aerodynamicist and avid kitesurfer and paraglider, said. “There are literally thousands of pages of debate on internet forums about the topic.”

    His explanation, then, sounds deceptively simple.

    “If you’re on a bike and you’re going downwind, you don’t feel any wind anymore at all,” he said. “You lose the power of the wind when you reach the wind speed, because there is no relative wind at that point.”

    When he isn’t obsessing over aerodynamics, Cavallaro works for Sportvision, the company that created the FoxTrax hockey puck — aka the “glowing puck” — and the yellow first-down line shown on telecasts of football games. Cavallaro’s boss at Sportvision, world-class sailing navigator Stan Honey, turned him on to the DWFTTW question. Working with a hang-gliding buddy, Cavallaro did the math and built a model to prove DWFTTW is possible. Skeptics weren’t convinced.

    “I thought people would say, ‘That’s cool,’ but they didn’t. They said, ‘Wow, you’re an idiot.’ So we decided to build a full-size one. That’s when we approached a couple of sponsors.”

    The basic concept.

    Cavallaro lined up help from Google and Joby Energy and set to work with the San Jose State University aero department on an ultralight, four-wheeled vehicle with a 17-foot-tall propeller. The vehicle is made mostly of foam and mimics the aerodynamics of a Formula 1 race car. But it’s the propeller that is key to how it is possible to travel downwind faster than the wind. It’s also the source of the biggest misunderstandings about how the vehicle works.

    “Skeptics think that the wind is turning the prop, and the car is turning the wheels, and that’s what makes the car go,” Cavallaro said. “That’s not the case. The wheels are turning the prop. What happens is the prop thrust pushes the vehicle.”

    The wheels turn the prop, which turns the vehicle’s wheels, which turn the prop, which turns the vehicle’s wheels. Cavallaro knows what you’re thinking.

    “It sounds like a perpetual motion machine — but you’ve got the wind as an external power source,” he said…..”


    I think the ingenuity of people all over the world have been demonstrated time and time again. But the conditions have to be right for this ingenuity to be developed and given full expression. China seems to have entered into a time when the basic needs are satisfied and people can unleash their creativity to achieve more than mere survival, but improvements.

    Tang Zhengping deserves to be supported. Perhaps an entrepreneur or marketing impresario can arrange for Tang to meet with some of his co-inventors for collaboration?

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