For many in Alabama, the 2011 tornadoes brought devastation and destruction. But for Robert Yost, they also brought inspiration.
"Well basically, my wife and I, we were sitting on the back deck and this pedestal fan was blowing in the breeze. It was an interesting time. You couldn’t stay inside because it was too hot with no air conditioning. So what do you do?” wondered Yost.
“I thought about the turbine engine blade as compared to blades on a big wind turbine. Why can’t we use a turbine blade? So that’s where I started at and from there developed the generator.”
That generator became the basis for what Yost dubbed the Microcube and is the basis for American Wind.
"[O]ur generator is a very free-flowing, free-turning generator. The U.S. Patent Office came back and said it’s the first new generator design since 1896,” said Yost.
The Microcube is a small wind turbine designed to generate power more efficiently than standard, large wind turbines you might see in fields or offshore.
The device went through 39 revisions in order to get to version number 40.
"Just simple aerodynamics of the turbine, taking it from having a vacuum from inside to outside to eliminating the vacuum, that was a big change. It created 17 percent more power,” said Yost.
The Microcubes are assembled in Huntsville, but they generate dozens of jobs in multiple states, including Tennessee, Michigan and California, that do the actual manufacturing.
Vice President of Manufacturing Ian Hunter said he was surprised at the number of people that wanted to be involved in creating new, environmentally friendly technology.
"What I found and I didn’t expect was they wanted to be a part of this: this green energy that we’re going to be able to produce here,” said Hunter.
"[W]e’ve found good people all across the United States that can make this work and make it work better. And we get great quality out of this technology. In fact, a lot of the people we talk to overseas, they like buying American products because they know the quality is in American products,” added Yost.
Last month, members of the American Wind team took the Microcube to the United Arab Emerites to show off the technology. They were one of eight Alabama companies that made the trip as part of an Alabama delegation to Dubai.
"[I]t was just because of NAITA [North Alabama International Trade Association] and the Alabama Department of Commerce that they actually helped us get in front of a lot of people and allow us to export technology from the United States, but also be able to work with those companies back here in the United States as well,” said Yost.
Yost said they work with an aluminum company and a ceramics company in the UAE to help get the materials for their products.
That partnership is emblematic of the ties Alabama has to the UAE. According to the Department of Commerce in 2018, the UAE was the 19th largest export market for Alabama with nearly $200 million in products being traded between the two.
According to the Embassy of the UAE, in 2017, exports from Alabama to the UAE supported about 2,114 jobs. About 90 percent of the exports were transportation equipment.
Yost said its partnerships like these that help startups like his grow and thirve.
"[I]t’s a mutual relationship between both countries and this meeting was a very good opportunity,” said Yost.