French engineer and inventor Fabrice André is whizzing up the Alpine road to his refuge on his latest invention: a tricycle that can climb upwards at more than 50 kilometres an hour and has 270 kilometres autonomy.
“The technology is based on the slow discharge from one battery to another in order to achieve maximum autonomy. And you can always use the pedals,” he says with a smile.
We meet Fabrice on his tricycle some 2,000 metres up high, above Alpe d’Huez, where he chose to settle down some ten years ago.
“I wanted to build a place in the middle of nowhere and prove that I could be totally energy independent. That didn’t just mean electric autonomy but also for heating, for the garden, the vegetable plot and for transport,” he tells us.
The refuge is an Aladin’s cave of ideas and energy tricks. The priorities are independence and comfort. The refuge is built with logs from trees that came down in a storm.
“When it comes to insulation, a 20 centimetre-thick log is as good as 2 metres of glass wool. Then there’s compression. The more the building ages, the more water-proof it will become. It’s the weight that ensures it is water-proof,” says Fabrice.
He shows us his new generation wind mill.
“This is a vertical wind mill with variable geometry blades. See how it speeds up. As the wind picks up, it closes up. When the wind weakens, it opens up completely. It’s virtually indestructible because, on a very windy day, it will adapt and turn into a cylinder.”
And when you produce energy, you also have to control energy emissions. Fabrice takes us for a walk around the pond next to his chalet.
“The chalet is equipped with a phyto-purification bassin. You collect all the waste water from the building. It is re-oxygenised before being put back into nature. Here you can see the Canadian waterweed which is finishing off the job,” he tells us.
Over on the north side of the chalet, there is a huge mirror.
“This is a solar tracking system. It’s a mirror which reflects the sun onto the northern side of the building, which helps clear the snow by melting it rather than having to use a spade,” says Fabrice.
And when there is neither sun nor wind, household waste can always come in handy. Fabrice’s boiler burns it all, even plastic, without causing any harm to the environment.
It’s a special kind of boiler of course.
“When the temperature exceeds 1,600 degrees, you can burn materials such as plastic and polystyrene, which can be particularly polluting,” says Fabrice. “It’s the high temperature which degrades the toxic molecules.”
The season’s first guests haven’t arrived yet, and the living room table is a mayhem of inventions, especially so-called “free energy” specimens, including one made up of two glass balls.
“The electric current travels through the air and ends up in these two balls,” Fabrice shows us.
“So you have this exchange between the two generators. One is a transmitter, the other a receptor. The electrons between the two, which are all around us, are pumped into the system. Between the earth and infinity, there are certainly more resources than between our feet and the centre of the earth. We’re only aware of an infinite part of this.
“Today, we’ve moved onto free energy, we’re no longer looking at renewables, but at procedures where human intelligence allows us to fulfil our needs on a small scale. For us, that’s two kilowatts, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you know how to balance out your charges and stock the energy you don’t need, that’s the perfect answer to our energy needs for the chalet,” says Fabrice, as he gets ready to welcome his first guests of the season.