The Greenbird in its final stages of assembly.


Why do it?

New transportation for a zero carbon world

Both Dale and Richard are passionate about wind, wind power and speed. They are committed to researching and developing of new types of transportation for a zero carbon world.

And beyond visionary methods of transportation, the Greenbird R&D work has immediate application to the next generation of microgeneration turbines. Richard is using his materials and engineering knowledge to help with production of Ecotricity’s ‘Urbine’ - a pioneering, vertical axis mini wind turbine designed specifically for use in urban environments.

Q & A with Richard:

Where did this entrepreneurship and dedication originate?

As a kid I spent a lot of time helping my grandfather, who had a small farm in Western Australia. Farming in the bush is a tough life and old farming equipment, tractors, bailers, etc are made to last and last through continual 'agricultural' fixes of the most basic type. Money was short and if there way a way to make something or improvise, rather than spend money, he would. This early basic understanding of engines, structures and mechanical solutions, and above all knowing you did not need to spend money to achieve them, would guide everything I set out to achieve in the subsequent years.

When did you start getting interested in sailing & speed?

After the age of 10, I spent most of my time on the south coast of England. When not at school, which was as often as possible, I would be sailing or designing and building some radical contraption. Some worked, most did not, but all were fun and the lessons learnt invaluable. I also used to love flying, in particular gliding, with the local Air Cadets. The three dimensional challenge of trying to seek out thermals, keep the plane aloft and overcome nature (gravity) with an efficient, man made engineering solution was wonderful.

When and how did the Windjet idea begin?

In 1997 I started a Mechanical Engineering degree at Imperial College, and this was really the start of the next stage. The technical understanding gained added to my practical understanding and for the first time I was able to properly calculate forces, loads and dynamics, rather than the trial and error approach I had previously employed!

This was all well and good, but I then needed an interesting application to apply this new found knowledge. As my class mates were lured by the big salaries of the city, I took up an altogether less commercial challenge. Land sailing and the land sailing speed record in - particular seemed to fulfill all criteria. It was difficult, fast, fun, high tech and combined the principles of sailing with the speed, technology and efficiency of flying. It also seemed to be achievable without necessarily needing huge budgets.

However, I could never have imagined how difficult a challenge it actually was. World speed records are set few are far between. They stand for a long time. I now realise this is because they are very difficult to achieve. The wind powered record is even more difficult.

What inspired you to focus on wind energy, instead of powered vehicles?

For any powered speed record, the basic principles are pretty straightforward: more power means more speed and it is really only a factor of budget, engine size and guts to raise the record. Where is the challenge in that? We wanted to develop a purely technical solution that would deliver ultimate performance from a free and available resource – the wind.

Wind power is a whole different game where more wind does not equal more speed. Instead it is a battle of efficiency, harnessing the available power while minimising drag forces. An engineering conundrum, which when solved, still requires a huge amount of luck with the weather to achieve the goal.

Almost 10 years, 5 prototype vehicles, 3 continents and thousands of man hours later, I now have the right vehicle, in the right part of the world with the right team in support. We now just need the weather to cooperate!

As for the next project, application of the technology and lessons learnt to revolutionise wind power generation, but one step at a time!

What does the involvement of Dale / Ecotricity mean to you?

I first approached Dale with the project back in 1999 he was interested, but not in the position to lend financial support. Regardless of involvement, Dale asked me to be involved with Ecotricity on a consultative basis in the development of a next generation micro turbine for urban power generation - something I feel passionately about and support wholeheartedly.

Dale shares my passion for wind engineering and will take a very active role in the record attempt. The financial support provided by Ecotricity’s involvement allows me to develop the crafts up to the technical perfection required to give us the best chance of breaking the record on this attempt.

How confident are you of setting the record? You’ve tried it four times before…

It’s not a case of trying to break the record, more choreographing the exact set of circumstances it will take to break it. We know the craft is capable of breaking the current record by around a margin of 10%, but it must be done on the right day weather-wise, with the right people witnessing it.

If it doesn’t happen this time, we’ll be back the same time next year….
Follow our progress in the blog.

Who will be monitoring your attempt?

The attempt will be monitored by the North American Wind Yacht Association. The current holders of the record attempt will be providing official timekeeping and adjudication.

Do you have a support crew on the ground, how many, what do they do, etc.

In the past, I would test the vehicles by myself, without any support crew. This is fine until you have a flat tyre or breakage while testing, which means you can have a long walk back to base. In the past I have been stuck 4 miles from the base and needed to walk to get spares! With Ecotricity's support I will have one full time support crew, who will drive the support car, carrying spares, etc.

Follow our progress in the blog.

Is the Greenbird dangerous?

Not in its current guise. The latest generation has been engineered using principles from aircraft and motor racing to be completely safe for its pilots. Although, in previous models there have been some close shaves...

What do you do when you’re not attempting records?

I spend many hours in the workshop designing and honing the crafts in which I will make record attempts, as well as working commercially on a number of consultative projects to keep the money coming in.

What next if you do break the land record?

The next step will be to attempt to break the wind powered speed record on ice!

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Q & A with Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder & MD:

What attracted you to the project?

Firstly, the Greenbird is an absolutely beautiful craft, so there was an instant attraction. Richard’s dogged enthusiasm also reminded me more than a little of myself.

The Greenbird is the pinnacle of wind-powered transport and, although we’re starting to think of renewable energy as a day to day reality, I think transport is the next great frontier we need to tackle from a renewable perspective.

Is this the first time you’ve attempted to break a world record?

Apart from being the world’s first green electricity company, yes.

Why is this important to you and what you are trying to do?

Donald Campbell made his record attempts in what historians will look back on as the golden age of fossil fuels - they were abundant, cheap and powerful, and nobody dreamt they might one day run out. He achieved incredible speeds in that golden age, using energy stores laid down over millions of years.

Fast forward 80 years and we are coming to the end of the age of fossil fuels and the dawn of the age of Renewables - nothing less than a second industrial revolution.

The Greenbird symbolises this historical watershed better than anything else. Cars of the future won't be running on fossil fuels, they will be running on Renewable sources of energy like the wind. And with today's technology we can achieve incredible speeds, using only wind power.

Campbell had his massive cubic capacity engines and energy dense fossil fuels - we have just the wind. But the wind will still be here in 50 or 100 years time - the age of Renewables has been a long time coming (back) but will endure.

Where are there more discussions on these important issues?

If you are interested in a discussion about life post-oil and post-carbon, then please join us at my blog It’s about the big questions - how will we keep the lights on, what kind of cars will we drive and how will we feed ourselves - in this next Industrial Revolution.

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