10 Green Structural Engineering Marvels

Wind Turbines
A 164-foot (50-meter) wind turbine blade comes to life in a Cape Town, South Africa, factory. Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Wind has been picking up quite a bit over the past half-decade. In fact, as of 2013, wind energy has blown past the competition to become the world fastest-growing renewable energy resource [source: LaGesse]. But let's not blow things out of proportion: For wind to really reach its energy potential, turbines must become better at catching the wind from any direction and converting it into power. More than that, devices must be developed to store that power efficiently and deliver it evenly, so that electricity is available under any wind conditions.

A few examples of progress reveal that this burgeoning industry has caught its second wind. Inspired by humpback whale fins, the company WhalePower added air-catching scalloped edges to its turbine blades, and both Quiet Revolution and Windspire Energy developed turbines that can capture winds from any direction without needing to swivel. Honeywell and WePOWER continue to plug away at ever-more efficient turbines, even as environmentally conscious builders begin mounting them on roof edges to catch updrafts [source: Merolla].

Meanwhile, a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a novel turbine energy storage system using a hollow, submerged concrete ball: While its blades turn, part of the electricity generated powers a pump that drives seawater out of the container; when winds die off, water flows back in, spinning a turbine and generating electricity [source: Harbison].