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Doug Berch


A wonderful article that may inspire some to explore and continue to develop a proven, useful technology!

S Pick


Very interesting. I find this site one of the most interesting on the web.

Thanks for all your work.

Ricardo Coelho


Now, there's a great idea. I often wondered when looking upon wind and watermills in Portugal or in the Netherlands why they were abandoned. Another example on how progress means going backwards.

Björn van der Meer


Wonderful article, thank you for that. You should be in print!

Steven Franchuk


Very interesting article. It provides more history on wind turbines then I have seen anywhere else. You might be interested in knowing that some of the first wind turbines installed in California's Alamont Pass use the fantails. Those turbines are still in use today.

However if serious effort was devoted to improving them, they would end up looking like modern wind turbines. Modern wind turbine face the same problems. They pitch the blades to control speed. Fantails were replaced with electric motors. Combined with modern aerodynamic theory a modern 1MW wind turbine produces approximately 1300 horsepower. Since electricity can be stored through a variety of means (batteries, fuel cells, pumped hydro, etc.) and transmission and conversion to mechanical energy are very efficient, I doubt that mechanical wind turbines will replace modern electric wind turbines.



Great, great article

Kris De Decker


Thanks for all the compliments. I am not in print yet, but the article was reposted on both "Energy Bulletin" and "The Oil Drum" (interesting comments there).


Dave DeRosa


That is a wonderful article , thanks. It is correct. Those old mills could be made to get the 2-4 hundred horsepower, and the conversion losses from converting mechanical to electrical and the conversion back to mechanical (and the huge electrical transmission losses) throws away much of the power in current wind generation. Staying at the mechanical level and doing the work at the mill would give huge gains. The worth of these things is interesting. The cost of the machinery and it's maintnance has to be taken into account. Like the advance to computers, the cost of a new technology can be enormous and ignored when figuring out it's worth. Sure computers are worth a lot, but the investment in them was enormous. An enormous investment will be worth a lot always but would the same investment elsewhere be worth much more? That is the question. For instance, if the computer investment were forgone and the same investment were put into child development education and science,(or many other technologies) would we be farther along? It is called opportunity cost in investing. Yes, your new investment is doing well but by spending on it you loose the opportunity to invest elsewhere where maybe the gains would be greater. Adding a bit of development investment to the old windmills seems very cost effective since most of the new technologies needed have already been paid for by investments in other technologies. I'd love to see a new aluminum/kevlar/carbon-fiber computer optimised Dutch type windmill. Great article, thanks.



Inspired! Inspiring! Thank you.

A H Rozario


I like this



Just found you guys. This was well-written, information-dense and has at least one great idea (eliminating the electrical middle-man in some mechanical tasks). Keep up the great work!

David Whitten


Kris and Vincent,

Thank you! OK, I need some help. Here in Maine some of us are working on re-localizing our grain supply. Farmers, soils geniuses, plant breeders (think perennial wheat!), draft animal folks, bakeries and bakers, the cooperative extension, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, and others are all working together. I have a dream. The Portland area has more folks per square mile than any other part of the state. It also has lots of farmland and farmers. I want to set up a mill in the heart of the farmland closest to the city (think 45 minutes for a horse-drawn wagonload of flour to get to the city center from the mill)…The mill of my dreams (since reading your article) would be one that looks like the new one in Schiedam. Only the mill would be able to direct drive a mill wheel and/ or generate electricity. Possibly the mill wheel could be run on electricity if the wind was too light and there was grain to mill. I need to know who to contact about what size/scale mill would work (if it would work) and then go about getting a budget construction price. We have the ability to set up a pole and capture wind data for a year at the site I am thinking about. So we can figure out hub height….anyway…just want to get this idea out there and get some input and guidance form the folks who read this and from the authors if possible….


David Whitten

Kris De Decker



I have sent you a private message with the email address of the people that built the Nolet windmill in Holland. I guess they can tell you all you need to know. I won't publish the e-mail address here, but if anyone else wants to get in contact with them, drop me a line.



Thank you for such interesting info. I am intrigued by all that is driven by the wind.



One use I can think of would be to drive a waterpump with the windmill, pushing the water up a watertower (Or into a tank on the high-rise you're living in), thus storing mechanical energy for later use.

I also have on technical question: For this use, I would need a constant momentum and as much revolutions as I can get. Is there a low-tech way to keep the momentum constant, despite changes in the wind?



Sorry, I confused english units. I wrote "momentum" where I meant torque.
torque is "Drehmoment" in German, hence ...

kris de decker


Martin: I think the only option is to use low-tech mechanisms applied to the sails (see the paragraph "automatic control: spring and patent sails"). Adjusting the load by adapting the distance between the milling stones was another way to keep a constant "Drehmoment", a process that was eventually automated (the "automatic centrifugal governor"), but I don't think this would useful for the application you are thinking of.



So, why don't people use inconsistently powered windmills to fill water towers and use those for waterwheels as the consistent power source for factory machinery? Then it stays mechanical power, with no conversion loss.

Speaking of low tech solutions, have you researched water wells?



Anyone interested in such an approach should take a close look at hydraulic transmission. This is a well-developed, mature technology that will add a lot of flexibility. The hydraulic pressure could be provided by another means during times when the wind is not blowing. Examples for powering the pump are a Stirling engine running on biomass heat or solar heat, tidal/wave power, ?
More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_motor



Here is an addition to my previous comment. I mentioned that hydraulic implements might be a good way to use the wind energy, because of the flexibility that a hydraulic transmission brings. Further, multiple windmills could be linked together. They would pressurize a gas (air, nitrogen) which would then be used to drive a hydraulic fluid that drives motors. The fluid could be water or oil, to name only the most frequently used ones. A local network of pipes could be built, transmitting the pressurized working gas. This would serve as a buffer (wind battery) that could smoothen out supply and demand. The same idea ("dispatchable wind") has been tried for the production of electricity (company: General Compression in Massachusetts), but this has not yet made it to mass market.

The use of a hydraulic transmission system introduces extra flexibility, as mentioned. For such an idea to catch on, hydraulic implements would have to be developed. Basically, all electric motors are replaced by hydraulic ones. If the feared shortage of rare earths ever materializes, this would be a real alternative for places that have a lot of wind.

Kris De Decker


Thanks Rasmus (#19, #20), Martin (#15) and EdgeWiseInAnnArbor (#18). These are all very interesting ideas that deserve further research and a follow-up article.



Just adding an electric motor in the classic drive train makes a lot of sense. If the mill is processing bulk goods or pumps water during times with high wind or high electric demand some or all wind energy can be used to produce energy. On the other side during times when electric power is cheap and there is no wind the mill can use electricity to process the goods. Thus the mill can take advantage of fluctuating wind speed and prices for electricity during time.



It would actually be more efficient to convert wind and water power into electricity because electrical power transmission systems experience no losses due to mechanical friction unlike the gears of a mechanical transmission system. This is the reason why hybrids have better fuel economy than cars that use mechanical or hydraulic power transmission.

Freek Sanders


Here in my village, Nuenen in the south of the Netherlands, there is still a functional windmill. It grinds grain into flour, which is for sale, and the price is comparable to supermarket-flour. To be complete though, the mill is run by volunteers, and the supermarket is not ;)



Very interesting article.

Minor typo in the bit about mills used to process flax. To make linen, you crush the stalks of the flax plant, then comb out the fibres and spin them into linen thread. Crushing the seeds is done to extract the linseed oil.

Interestingly, if you expose linseed oil to sunlight, it polymerizes into a low-tech plastic. "Oilcloth" is cloth soaked in linseed oil and left out in the sun to form a flexible, waterproof sheet. Likewise, linoleum is a low-tech synthetic floor covering.



I am doing a report, and I was wondering can I consider this as a primary source ~ basically are you in this field or did you get this information from somewhere else?

Kris De Decker


@ JoAnn: the article is based on the list of sources mentioned. I am not sure if this answers your question. I am not a historian, if that is what you mean. I am a writer who became very much interested in old technology and what it could mean for the future.

Ritesh Chepuri


I am working on a project to design a windmill transmission system that would transmit torque mechanically to a grind granite stones. I would like to know what are your thoughts about it. any help would be appreciated.
Looking forward to your response.

Kevin J.


Hello Rites

Are you still out there? It's now been over three years, so I can understand if you've moved on. If this gets to you- I'd like to talk further with you about what you've found or worked on in this line of wind machine. I hope I get to hear from you- Kevin

Engineering Student


Hello Kevin

I'm actually about to start on a project for my engineering design class. While everyone is doing cars, electric scooters, 3d printers, and telehandlers, I am going old school and designing a Windmill Factory. I'd be interested in discussing ideas about this project.

Very good article btw! This will help me a lot in my project.

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