Green power idea: Ingenious combination of Mallorca windmills and Audi electric cars

The Audi employee Francisco Trigueros Morera de la Vall had the idea of obtaining green energy from traditional Mallorcan windmills and scrapped electric motors. The first Project Microgrid windmill was just inaugurated.

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Audi developer Francisco Trigueros Morera de la Vall had the idea for the windmill project.
Audi developer Francisco Trigueros Morera de la Vall had the idea for the windmill project.

What do traditional windmills on the popular holiday island of Mallorca have to do with electric Audi e-tron models? Seemingly nothing. Or maybe quite a lot, if you ask Francisco Trigueros Morera de la Vall, the head of the innovative Project Microgrid. When he was on vacation on Mallorca, he thought of the abandoned windmills, “Why can’t they be reactivated as a green energy source for electric cars to replace what has customarily been fossil power generation on Mallorca?”

 

Three years after this first idea, Trigueros and his comrades-in-arms inaugurated the first Microgrid windmill – wonderfully named “Son España” – in the village of Son Ferrol at the beginning of April 2022. It was built in 1925 and was the first one equipped with metal rotor blades.

 

The biggest of the Balearic Islands is known for its thousands of windmills whose origins go back to the fourteenth century. They initially served as grain mills, then as groundwater pumps at the beginning of the twentieth century, but they’ve largely fallen out of use today. Fossil sources currently generate power there, which increases the island’s carbon footprint.

 

And this is exactly where the Spaniard comes in. “We’re using both the windmills and the electric motors from Audi e-tron test vehicles for power generation,” Trigueros said, explaining the sustainability idea he introduced to Audi’s Innovation Management department.

Windmills instead of coal-fired power plants

Just like Trigueros, a multitude of Audi employees submit their ideas to the cross-departmental innovation committee every year. With its targeted support, these ideas can mature into prototypes or even fixed parts of new Audi projects. Here, as well as in the company of Audi as a whole, sustainability and ESG performance (environment, social and governance criteria) are sliding more and more into focus.

  

Audi e-tron: Power consumption (combined*) in kWh/100 km: 24.3–21.4 (NEDC) | 26.1–21.7 (WLTP)CO₂ emissions (combined*) in g/km: 0
Information on fuel/power consumption and CO₂ emissions with ranges depending on the selected equipment of the vehicle.

Audi e-tron: Power consumption (combined*) in kWh/100 km: 24.3–21.4 (NEDC) | 26.1–21.7 (WLTP)CO₂ emissions (combined*) in g/km: 0
Information on fuel/power consumption and CO₂ emissions with ranges depending on the selected equipment of the vehicle.

Green energy from windmills sponsored by Audi’s Innovation Management department

But how can the generation of Mallorcan wind energy with used Audi e-tron electric motors be capitalized on? “Answering that was definitely a challenge,” Trigueros said. The solution was for the Spanish hotel chain Meliá to become the brand’s cooperation partner and rent four Audi e-tron models to interested vacationers – for drives around Mallorca.

 

Locally emission-free electric cars are the ideal form of transportation on Mallorca to protect nature and the environment, according to Trigueros. At the same time, he’s convinced that a relaxed vacation is the perfect time to experience electromobility. “If just five percent of all hotel customers buy an Audi e-tron, the project will pay off,” the project manager proudly calculated. Moreover, the fleet’s annual consumption can be covered by the green energy from this alternative power source.

 

This calculation convinced Audi’s Innovation Management department as well. Trigueros has been working on Project Microgrid – or Project M, as it’s internally called – since 2019. “M” is a small letter for a massive undertaking. After all, we’re talking about up to 15-meter-tall windmills whose turbines measure up to eight meters in diameter.

Audi has been working on the Mallorca windmill idea since 2019

The first prototype to obtain renewable energy was built with colleagues. A recycled electric motor from an Audi e-tron test vehicle was installed in a 220-kilogram, three-meter-long, 1.6-meter-wide, one-meter-tall box on the back side of the wind turbine. It’s connected to the turning wind turbine by a gear drive.

 

“This can be compared with vehicle operation,” Trigueros explained. “Just like when you drive over Mallorcan hills and reclaim energy when going downhill, the motor here is in permanent recuperation mode.” Depending on the size of the wind turbines, Trigueros promises 15 kW of output or 22 MWh of energy per year. Or put another way, this green energy is enough to charge an Audi e-tron with a 95-kWh battery 220 times. But it’s possible to achieve even more. With a more efficient wind turbine, the Audi e-tron motor could have continuous output of 40 kW.

Audi focuses on sustainability in energy production

With his green energy idea, Trigueros is making a massive contribution to the environmental goals of the brand with the four rings. By 2025, Audi intends for its production at all locations to be carbon-neutral, and Audi as a company intends to be carbon-neutral by 2050 at the latest.

 

Audi Hungaria has been carbon-neutral since back in 2020, becoming the second carbon-neutral Audi Group location after Brussels. Audi Hungaria transitioned to green energy in Győr, so the company now gets all of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Audi relies heavily on solar energy to that end – thanks to the biggest photovoltaic roof system in Europe.

 

Renewable energies are one way to reduce COemissions, and recycling is another. With the Audi charging hub, the premium manufacturer is demonstrating how used battery cells can be repurposed for a sustainable secondary application.

 

According to the second-life philosophy, components should only be recycled if they’re no longer usable. If they work but maybe no longer sufficiently meet the requirements for their original intended purpose, it’s more environmentally friendly and saves resources to find an alternative use – for instance, as an energy storage device – instead of recycling them prematurely. Only when the batteries no longer have a second-use application like this are they broken down into their individual raw materials using modern recycling concepts before ultimately being used in new batteries. 

 

But in automobile production, some CO2 emissions can’t be avoided. Audi offsets these with climate-protection projects.

Local partners for a local project

Sustainability was also crucial in the modification of the wind turbine. It was converted on the island by an external local provider in a workshop rented specifically for that purpose. “It’s important to us to integrate partners in the project who work on site and don’t have to fly to the island just for that,” Trigueros said.

Windmill association in Mallorca honors "Project M"

Trigueros explained that “Son España” has been integrated into Mallorca’s energy network, “but we’ve also thought more about what else can be done with the energy.”

 

For instance, the renewable energy could be used for electrolysis for hydrogen or for stationary charging stations or power banks to charge electric cars. Fluctuations in the power grid could also be balanced out with the green energy. But the use of this environmentally friendly energy also depends on how things continue with the sustainability project itself. “It’s currently not planned to scale this up, but the principle would definitely be applicable on other islands,” Trigueros said.

 

“On Mallorca alone, there are 500 potential windmills that could be equipped with the same device,” he added. Project M already has one big fan. The Mallorca windmill association, which advocates for the preservation of historic windmills on the island, awarded Audi the Moli d’Or in the spring of 2022 for the beautification, preservation and protection of traditional windmills.

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