Published May 16, 2012
BANJIEHE, China -- A Chinese farmer has invented a wind-powered, electric car that he says could save his country from the pollution caused by its rapidly growing car market.
An hour from downtown Beijing, the dusty village of Banjiehe looks an unlikely place to produce scientific innovation. Its rows of brick, utilitarian houses are surrounded by cornfields and fruit trees.
But in a small tractor workshop, 55-year-old farmer Tang Zhenping has invented the prototype of a car that he believes could revolutionize China's auto industry.
Tang's model -- built in just three months for around US$1,600 -- is electric.
Its engine uses scrap parts from a motorcycle and electric scooter. Its steering wheel, upholstery and headlights all come from a Chinese-made Xiali hatchback.
But what makes the one-seater special is the turbine on its nose.
When the car reaches 40mph (64kph), the blades spring into action and begin generating pollution-free power.
"It works just like a windmill," said Tang, who claims the turbine gives his vehicle three times the battery life of other electric cars.
The model has a top speed of 70mph (113kph).
The farmer says he dreamed of building an electric car for three decades, but was unable to interest government officials or private investors. He now hopes car manufacturers will take an interest in his prototype.
"I'm not doing this just for the money," he told Sky News. "I dream of seeing my car being driven on highways. I want to serve the people."
In 2009 China overtook the US as the world's biggest auto market. An estimated 40,000 new cars take to the country's roads every day, and some predict China could have a billion passenger vehicles by the middle of this century.
The environmental results are disastrous.
A 2010 Chinese government report said an increase in acid rain, haze and photochemical smog was caused by growth in vehicle emissions.
The government has promised to put five million electric and hybrid cars on the road by 2020, and is heavily subsidizing the development of cleaner vehicles.
But sales so far have been disappointing -- only 8,000 were sold last year.