Entrepreneur receives funding for 'tornado' power generator

December 18, 2012 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report

(Phys.org)—Electrical engineer and entrepreneur Louis Michaud's AVEtec company has received funding from PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs program to build an experimental Atmosphere Vortex Engine (AVE). The $300,000 in startup funds is to go towards building a working engine to dispel or prove the viability of using such technology to produce electricity with virtually no carbon footprint.

Michaud's idea is to use a fan to blow some of the excess heat produced by conventional power plants, into a cylindrical hollow tower, at an angle. Doing so should create a circular air current, which he says will grow stronger as it moves higher. The higher it goes the more energy it draws due to differences in temperature. The result would be a controlled man-made tornado. To put it to good user, turbines would be installed at the base of the to create electricity. The original test will be conducted at Lambton College in Ontario – the tower will be 131 feet tall with a 26 foot diameter. That should be enough to create a vortex about a foot in diameter – enough to power a small turbine. It's just a , Michaud notes on his site, a real-world tower would be about 25 meters in diameter, and would be capable of producing up to 200 of power using only the excess heat generated by a conventional 500 megawatt plant. Power goes up geometrically, he says, as the size of tower grows. He adds that the cost of producing electricity this way would be about 3 cents per , well below the typical 4 or 5 cents for .

Michaud has been investigating the idea of harnessing the power of tornado's to provide electricity for several decades but until now has had problems being taken seriously by . He adds that his company built and successfully tested an AVE prototype in 2009, hinting that he has no doubts that the new tower and turbines will work as advertised.

For those worried that a man-made tornado might get out of hand, escape its enclosure and wreak havoc on the nearby community, Michaud says that can't happen because all it would take to stop the whole process would be to turn off the fan that feeds the vortex the warm air.

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More information: vortexengine.ca/index.shtml
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3 / 5 (4) Dec 18, 2012
Energy crisis? "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, blowin' in the wind" . ..
1.4 / 5 (11) Dec 18, 2012
For those worried that a man-made tornado might get out of hand, escape its enclosure and wreak havoc on the nearby community, Michaud says that can't happen because all it would take to stop the whole process would be to turn off the fan that feeds the vortex the warm air.

Article doesn't make much sense.

In order to produce power, the cyclone needs to be self-sustaining.

There was an australian concept model for a solar tower which used wind energy, which this may be the same thing, I don't know.

The taller the tower the colder the cold sink (atmosphere) at the top of the tower, which increases maximum efficiency.

With some direct solar heating at the base of the tower, and low grade steam, you should be able to get a micro-scale cyclone going, but I don't know what amount of efficiency you could get in harvesting the energy, because horizontal turbines in there would disrupt the air.

Maybe a "squirrel trap" style turbine would work.
1.5 / 5 (4) Dec 18, 2012
"Power goes up geometrically, he says, as the size of tower grows."
Costs, however, go up exponentially.
1.9 / 5 (8) Dec 18, 2012
The cross-section on here is a little odd.

shouldn't the warm water intake be on the bottom, and the cold water outflow on the top somewhere (like in a condensation vessel)?

It could be possible to build a vertical axis harvester at the top, with the ventilation evacuating air in an anti-cyclonic pattern to spin the turbine. This would allow the air to do it's work, be harness at a high efficiency, and then escape and spread out through the atmosphere, like natural hurricanes work, except at a smaller scale.

The key would be that the design of the mechanism contains the energy until it's harvested, instead of allowing it to escape in every direction, as energy does in natural cyclones.
3 / 5 (6) Dec 18, 2012
"Power goes up geometrically, he says, as the size of tower grows."
Costs, however, go up exponentially.

No, they don't.

If you have the same size turbines and the same amount of input energy then your "high tech" components are about the same either way.

Adding to the height of the tower allows you to reach colder atmosphere at the top of the tower, which maximizes thermodynamic efficiency.

I will say $300,000 seems like chicken feed compared to what it will cost to actually make a full scale tower large enough to produce a significant amount of energy.

But, a mere 40MW solar parabolic trough does about 9000 gallons per minute at 720f. So when you consider the amount of left over "low grade" heat remaining after that goes through normal turbines, there should be plenty of energy to make a self-sustaining vortex engine. How much of that can be captured for electricity I wouldn't know.

One problem is it might be cheaper to just make more troughs...
2.3 / 5 (6) Dec 18, 2012
I have heard of this idea before but it is generally paired with a large heat source like a large greenhouse-like enclosure. I think the heat source is the limiting factor and there might be more efficient ways of getting power from heat. But I wish them success.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 18, 2012
Nothing ever needs to be self sustaining to produce power -- In fact no process is indefinitely self sustaining, though many are very long lived, such as the sun.

I think you are dead on Lurer abou tcoupling with a solar power plant -- seems like a natural linkage that one.

about the water -- you misinterpreted the picture.
warm water flows in the top ... it is then sprayed out ... the not so ambient air is flows through absorbing heat from the water and going into the cyclone -- the now cooler water hits the drip pan and flows out

I agree with the vertical turbines higher up to catch the wind
1 / 5 (2) Dec 18, 2012
I meant "self-sustaining" in the sense of a hurricane or cyclone, which organizes itself and keeps pulling in more and more energy at the surface.

I wasn't implying anything like "perpetual motion".
4 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2012
The Australian concept was essentially the same as Lurker pointed out. It was to be built in Mildura, Victoria. The idea was brilliant, and I still don't know why it hasn't happened yet. The tower was to be 1km tall. At it's base was a very large, funnel tapered green house extending over many square km, where you would grow fruit trees or something. The sun heating the green house would cause air to move to the centre, and enter the 1km tall tower. The rest is as the article suggests.
The tower would run even at night time, as the land in the green house was still a different temp than the top of the 1km tower. Other spins off would be fruit or veg from the green house, and rental $$ for coms gear at the top of the tower.

Note that I think there was a smaller prototype built in Spain. (not sure about that)
not rated yet Dec 18, 2012
The Australian concept was a solar updraft tower that did not use a vortex, and the tower was much larger, with a covered area at the base to harvest energy from the ground overnight. I think that it was to be built in the United States but encountered legal problems between the Australians and their American partners. It may not be dead.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2012
Enviromission is the name of the outfit. Not dead yet. Looks like they have some activity in Texas.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 19, 2012
The most important question goes unanswered: what kind of temperature differential is necessary to drive the vortex? If you have waste heat with a large temperature gradient, there are many ways to convert this energy to electricity. Most of them would be both simpler and cheaper than the proposed method.

If, however, the necessary temperature difference is only a few degrees Celsius, then the inventor has indeed come up with something that is potentially usefull.
not rated yet Dec 19, 2012
There are many ways to convert this energy to electricity. Most of them would be both simpler and cheaper than the proposed method.

I think some duct work that directs the hot air coming off an already in place heat exchanger, a cylinder, and a turbine is pretty simple. As for cost, R&D is never cheap, lets see the price if/when it hits production.
not rated yet Dec 19, 2012
Why is the water sprayed? Isn't it easier to manage a closed circuit? It seems like ambient air passing over the coolant water is going to result in a gross situation at the collecting tray. The inlet pressure has to be managed, the collected water has to be filtered and pumped. What's the problem with a closed circuit heat exchanger?
not rated yet Dec 19, 2012
Maybe the water flashes when you release the pressure? The inlet air becomes humid as well as hot and then condenses up the tower, effectively collecting the heat of vaporization to power the vortex? Or perhaps this is just the way conventional cooling towers work? There has to be a trick to this: getting 200MW out of the waste from a 500MW plant is fantastic.
not rated yet Dec 22, 2012
Would it be possible for a building to partially power its cooling by using the heat produced by its heat pumps to generate a vertical thermal gradient enhanced by vortex action to power a generating turbine...the containing structure perhaps as part of the building structure if built around a central circular "courtyard" designed to promote the vortex?
not rated yet Dec 24, 2012
$0.03 per kw? Coals is $0.05 ... Why do we pay $1.00 or more? What a bunch of crooks they have become.

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