Static electricity is high voltage (HV) at low current. That unexpected ZAP! occurring when you walk across a carpet and touch a metal object demonstrates HV conduction by ionized air particles. Ion wind turbines use electrostatic forces acting between these particles to produce mechanical movement.
I decided to go green by making this desk-top project from mostly dollar-store hardware; re-purposed plastic, cardboard and aluminum disposables from my kitchen recycling bin as well as some curbside junk from the neighbors next door. The turbine uses foil electrodes that encircle a plastic, tubular rotor. Each electrode has a sharp edge that sprays a stream of positive or negative ions on the rotor's surface. When these electrodes are arranged so they alternate in polarity around the rotor, each electrode repels a rotor segment carrying the same charge and simultaneously attracts that rotor segment carrying charges deposited by the preceding electrode.
Many sources of static electricity --from old CRT screens that "crackle and pop" when powered up, to room air ionizers -- will spin a reasonably well constructed turbine. You can view an enhanced version, constructed from better components and featured on this page w/the basic version, in operation here:
Step 1: Parts List for Basic Version
Step 2: Make & Line Rotor Cylinder
Cut aluminum strip to specified size and line inside of cylinder. Trim width as needed to minimize overlap. Strip will serve as a conductor to attract ions to the rotor and also provide a seat for the rotor disks.
Step 3: Prepare Rotor & Flywheel Disks
Insert the #6 x 1-1/2” metal bolt through the holes. Clamp disks firmly against the bolt head with a lock washer and nut. Chuck assembly in an electric drill. Using a sanding block and medium grit paper carefully grind disks to a diameter of 2-1/4.” Rub a thin layer of glue on the surfaces and edges of the disks to strengthen the cardstock. Allow disks to dry and sand lightly with fine grit paper until surfaces are smooth.
Step 4: Assemble Rotor
Bond the liner to the inner cylinder wall with a small amount of glue. Do not glue the end disks in place at this time — you will need to balance the rotor later. Place the third disk aside for later use in STEP 13.
Cut the rotor shaft to size and slide it through the disk centers. Make shaft collars by removing threads from two #6 nylon nuts with round hobby file until they fit snugly over the shaft. Slide one collar to the end of the shaft and secure with glue. Place this assembly and remaining collar aside at this point.
Step 5: Cut, Mark & Punch Rotor Cage Disks
Mark placements on one of the disks with a protractor to accommodate four support columns and four power rods. The placements must be equally spaced at 45 degrees and 1/4” from the circumference. Use this disk as a template for the three remaining disks.
Make the eight placement holes in each disk with a paper punch. Verify alignment of the holes as well as the flat edges of all disks. Apply glue sparingly to join two disks to make the cage floor. Repeat this step with the two remaining disks to make the roof.