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Inventor turned satellite dishes into wind turbines that help irrigate crops, charge phones

Carlos Nielbock

The Next Idea

You’ve heard of a “hotbed of innovation” – a time and place where money and talent flow towards the creation of new ideas. Sometimes, though, innovation happens during the slowdowns, the dry spells.

Carlos Nielbock, head of C.A.N. Art Handworks, is a metalsmith who has worked on restoration projects like Detroit’s Fox Theater. He started working with windmill technology during the last recession when money and projects were scarce.

He’s since received a Knight Arts Challenge grant to create innovative wind turbine sculptures that will power a cellphone charging station and help irrigate crops in Detroit’s Eastern Market District.

What “upcycling” has to do with Nielbock’s inventions

He said “upcycling” is when you disassemble old items that someone tossed aside, and reuse their components in new projects.

“Somewhat like Lego stones,” he said. “To be able to, you know, make new things over and over again with the same things that you have available – upcycling.”

It was an “ah-ha” moment on his rooftop that led Nielbock to the idea for upcycled wind turbines. He said he was on his roof adjusting his satellite dish when a gust of wind came and “almost catapulted [him] off the building.”

He realized satellite dishes catch wind “like a baseball glove” and therefore could make great wind turbines.

“And there it was,” he said. “I went straight to my shop and built my next windmill out of satellite dish blades.”

On how “upcycling” can help revitalize Detroit

“Our greatest resource is creativity,” he said. “The next generation cannot pollute anymore oceans, are not able to hack up anymore forests. All the resources, like oil gas – this is coming to an end. So to come up with a way to see the resources in the things that [were] already created, I think that the real inventions are yet to come.”

The Next Ideais Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.


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