Interview with Claudio Colucci for Rexel: Winds of Change

clean energy, renewable energies, renewable energy, wind, wind energy

Winds of Change

Claudio Colluci, an Austro-Italian designer and interior architect, talked to Energy 3.0 about his design for Arbre à Vent®, an energy-producing, sustainable invention that mimics the natural form of trees,  manufactured by French start-up company NewWind.

What led you to work in sustainable development?

The job of architects and designers is changing. I find myself increasingly asking my clients if they themselves are asking the right questions before  starting the design process. Questions such as: What is the product’s purpose? What life-cycle will it have? Which alternative avenues could be explored? Do you really need a new car or simply parking space to accommodate car sharing? Take Uber, for example, who created a worldwide transport network using just a mobile-app. Product designers today are being invited to take part in brainstorming sessions to map out the possible scenarios for future living, moving away from a world of “hard design” to an era of “soft design”.

How did Arbre à Vent® come into being?

It all started with a poetic idea that Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, creator of Arbre à Vent® – “the wind tree” – , wanted to translate into an industrial concept. As head of the start-up NewWind, he started by bringing  together several engineers to take care of the technical aspects of the project, before hiring a designer to look at the aesthetics and ergonomics. Transforming the idea of a tree, with leaves rustling in the wind, into a manufactured product was no mean feat.

However, the project has been a great engineering and aesthetic achievement, resulting in a beautiful product, whose presence is far more pleasant than that of traditional wind turbines with their huge blades. From the outset we wanted our product to be both convenient and client-friendly, and we had to make it ‘look nice’ to allow for its installation in close proximity to our clients.

How does it work?

It took me about a hundred sketches until I found the right design. Arbre à Vent® is an extremely complex industrial endeavour with countless potential variations. Given its 12-metre frame and many components, it will be possible to customize the trunk with various colours, smart finishes and special paints that will contribute to sustainable development.

Moreover, Arbre à Vent® has roots, which could generate geothermal power and an extensive tubular surface could be used to filter and purify the air, or to generate additional photovoltaic power thanks to dye-sensitized solar cells (also known as Grätzel cells), which rely on natural pigments and are therefore much more environment-friendly than silicon.

Overall, planted in an urban setting, Arbre à Vent® could offer comprehensive technical and ecological services. But besides its primary function to generate energy, what else can we do with it? Will it serve as a meeting point, a battery-charging station, an information point?

How much power can one unit generate?

Arbre à Vent® can cover the needs of a four-person household, bar the heating. You can increase output by adding extra leaves; however, we want to encourage clients to use a hybrid wind/geothermal solution.

Two prototypes have been installed in France so far, one on the ocean side (Charentes Maritimes) and the other at the Cité des Télécoms (Orange Foundation) in Brittany. The third prototype, and almost the first production unit, will be installed at the Place de la Concorde in Paris for two months later this year, along with a platform for visitors and information on real-time power generation. Sales will be launched at the same time giving people the opportunity to buy the tree.

What type of client are you targeting?

Initially, NewWind thought they would mainly target households, but local authorities and public real estate agencies actually form the bulk of the demand. Municipalities and construction companies worldwide are showing great interest as well.

Each client’s specific expectations can lead us to offer customized versions of Arbre à Vent® and its many components. Some clients have very original ideas: for instance, a golf course owner told us he would like to plant several “wind trees” to power his automatic sprinklers. By the way, another key benefit of Arbre à Vent® needs to be mentioned: it is completely silent.

Are you planning to work on any other projects combining technology and ethics?

I organize workshops with small groups and schools in order to discuss how Arbre à Vent® could be adapted to different public places. NewWind developed the leaf as a single product known as Aeroleaf®, which could also be deployed on roofs in bush-like structures, or on the façades of buildings along the railings. Arbre à Vent® is an extremely versatile technology.

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