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Power Hardware

Mini-Tornadoes For Generating Electricity 135

Posted by Soulskill
from the mad-scientist's-green-revolution dept.
cylonlover writes "Tornadoes generally evoke the destructive force of nature at its most awesome. However, what if all that power could be harnessed to produce cheaper and more efficient electricity? This is just what Canadian engineer Louis Michaud proposes to achieve, with an invention dubbed the 'Atmospheric Vortex Engine' (or AVE). It works by introducing warm air into a circular station, whereupon the difference in temperature between this heated air and the atmosphere above creates a vortex – or controlled tornado, which in turn drives multiple wind turbines in order to create electricity. The vortex could be shut down by simply turning off the source of warm air. Michaud's company, AVEtec Energy Corporation, reports that the system produces no carbon emissions, nor requires energy storage to function, and that further to this, the cost of energy generated could potentially be as low as US$0.03 per kilowatt hour."
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Mini-Tornadoes For Generating Electricity

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  • Warm Air. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BradleyUffner (103496) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:35PM (#42364239) Homepage

    And where does the power from heating the air come from?

    • Re:Warm Air. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ironhandx (1762146) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:36PM (#42364263)

      Geo-thermal vents spring to mind, amongst other things, such as using this technique along with the exhaust from a nuclear reactor to increase its power output.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:54PM (#42364461)

        Yes, let's create controlled tornadoes in the immediate vicinity of nuclear reactors.
        What could possibly go wrong?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          I would mod this, but I don't know if it is funny or insightful. Probably both. Oh well, you're anon, so you get NEITHER!
          • Re:Warm Air. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by amRadioHed (463061) on Friday December 21, 2012 @06:06PM (#42364601)

            What could possibly get wrong when an puny, artificial tornado that will dissipate as soon as it is removed from its source is created in proximity to a reactor sheltered within a dome strong enough to withstand even the strongest natural tornadoes? I'm thinking absolutely nothing.

            • if it runs on hot air on a hot day it could once started possible run off of ambient heat then destroy the nuclear plant

              • by mysidia (191772)

                if it runs on hot air on a hot day it could once started possible run off of ambient heat then destroy the nuclear plant

                Hot air on a hot day alone is likely not sufficient to produce even a F3 strength tornado; let alone a F5+ supertornado/superburst capable of damaging the plant

                • by crutchy (1949900)
                  the air at the bottom of the funnel just needs to be warmer than the air at the top, but it seems unlikely that temperature differential and some tangential baffls will be enough. tornadoes are fairly complex beasts and apparently they actually start their lives as horizontal vortices.

                  having said that, dust devils (as mentioned in TFA) are probably entirely different to tornadoes, so i'm not sure where this idea that an AVE could produce a tornado came from, but this is slashdot
                  • by mysidia (191772)

                    so i'm not sure where this idea that an AVE could produce a tornado came from, but this is slashdot

                    Yeahp.... ambient hot air would likely shut it down, as the differential no longer exist.... and people accuse Microsoft of creating FUD :)

                    if strong Tornados had such simple requirements to form on their own; there'd be a heck of a lot more natural tornados ravaging the lands.

        • Why study alternate energy sources at all, when the nukular is so falwless and "cheap". Let's not waste time on that and BUILD MORE NUKE PLANTS!
          • by Smallpond (221300)

            If you read the press releases from when they started building nukes they promised that electricity would be so cheap they might just get rid of meters. That hasn't quite worked out. Turns out they were right about nukes being cleaner than coal, but try to tell that to people who live near Fukushima.

            • by crutchy (1949900)
              if you live near a nuclear power plant in an area prone to tidal waves and earthquakes, you would surely have to assume a certain amount of risk

              that risk was probably found favorable by most living nearby compared to living next to a coal-fired plant chugging out dust and pollutants (which would also likely cause significant environmental damage if hit by a tidal wave), not to mention cheaper electricity (money talks after all).

              anti-nuclear (same as greenies) are a hypocritical bunch... happy to bad-m
        • Yes, let's create controlled tornadoes in the immediate vicinity of nuclear reactors. What could possibly go wrong?

          When the reactor explodes, you simply use the controlled tornado to carry all the stuff away!

        • by mindwhip (894744)

          I'm sure I've seen that somewhere before...

          http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=tornado+reactor+movie&l=1 [lmgtfy.com]

        • by wbr1 (2538558)

          Yes, let's create controlled tornadoes in the immediate vicinity of nuclear reactors. What could possibly go wrong?

          this: http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0281617/ [imdb.com]

        • by mysidia (191772)

          Controlled nuclear reactions in the immediate vicinity of nuclear reactors. What could possibly go wrong? (A lot)

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Sure... but the original argument of $0.03 / kwH. Is very similar to the idea of having a perpetual motion machine, or "harnessing free energy from the vacuum"; with a new label stamped on it.

        The use of geothermal heat makes sense, in which case it's just Geothermal power, or "Power produced by tapping exhaust heat" which requires more energy than suggested, and there are already other Geothermal power production methods.... so this is of benefit, only if more efficient, or it can harness exhaust he

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Data Centers! Nothing like reclaiming energy from all those computers.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I believe the idea is to use industrial waste heat.

      This is less efficient than cogeneration, and almost certainly less efficient than preheating, but better than just dumping the heat to the environment since that is 0% efficient.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Congress?

    • And where does the power from heating the air come from?

      Congress! Where else? Studies have shown that multiple tornadoes worth of hot air can at times be generated by even a single congressperson, it's just a matter of finding the right one. Yeah, I lost the link to those studies, but hey, you know it's true.

    • by AndyKron (937105)
      Troy Hurtubise is working on that part.
    • by mikael (484)

      I would hope they could use solar power. Otherwise, the energy used to create hot steam would be better off just driving a steam turbine, or just being fed directly into the grid if it electricity.

  • So the generator has no carbon emissions, but without heat it doesn't work.

    So where do they get the heat, and how much better is it to use the heat for this instead of any of the dozen other electrical generation methods? /off to RTFA.

    • by yotto (590067)

      Ah.

      The heat required to get the mini-tornado started would be provided by a temporary heat source, such as a heater, or steam. However, AVEtec states that once the vortex is thus established, the continuous heat could then be provided by a more sustainable source – such as waste industrial heat or warm seawater.

      Seems a little hand-wavey, and I'd still like to see how "potential" this 3 cents per kilowatt hour prediction is.

      But the idea of parking one over a geothermal vent or floating them on the ocea

      • by Dasher42 (514179) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:54PM (#42364459)

        You don't need a geothermal vent. A large number of mirrors and a receiver filled with molten salts is itself already a proven technology. Concentrated solar thermal chimneys are actually part of the basis of this design, and they've been generating megawatts for decades in sunnier parts of the world.

        We should have been using this technology already, but skewed money comparisons that ignore pollution and military expenditures make oil *seem* cheaper than these, which it really isn't overall.

        http://www.csp-world.com/tags/khi-solar-one [csp-world.com]

        • by gtall (79522)

          How do military expenditures make oil seem cheaper. Last I checked, Republicans in Congress was rebuking the Navy for their investments in alternative energy sources. Turns out the Navy is big on those since it means they wouldn't have to rely on oil. So far, the Navy has been able to tell Congressional Republicans to shove it up their stove pipes.

          • by Dasher42 (514179) on Friday December 21, 2012 @06:56PM (#42365169)

            Because you pay for the cost of keeping oil supply under control not at the gas pump, but through taxes, yet you pay for it all the same, because other energy supplies would not oblige the military to defend the interests of oil companies.

            • by khallow (566160)

              because other energy supplies would not oblige the military to defend the interests of oil companies.

              And what would we blame that spending on next? US military spending exists at the level it's at due to wildly successful, political rent seeking, not handouts to petroleum-based industries.

    • by hrvatska (790627)
      Perhaps something like a molten salt solar concentrator. The molten salt would retain a lot of heat and would permit the facility to continue operating when the sun wasn't shining.
    • waste heat from other processes. (data centers, industrial fabrication, geothermal, and so forth, the article even mentions using naturally warm sea water for a heat source.) The idea being, this process does not add * additional* carbon emissions, it simply allows us to more efficiently generate power from the emissions we already create.
  • Three cents for a kilowatt hour, and that's *without* externalized costs like oil spills, oil wars, blown up mountains, and polluted air and water. You could even use concentrated solar thermal heat to drive this thing.

    Anyone who says renewables aren't ready isn't paying attention.

  • Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:40PM (#42364305) Journal
    ok, I assume that the cost of heating that air at bottom is already calculated in. This would mean that this AVE is pulling energy out of atmosphere (thin air, yeah), which means decreasing the air temperature. Because gas stores energy using kinetic energy of its molecules (temperature). This would mean that AVE will produce energy exploiting the global warming effect. Doubly cool solution. Even if I doubt global warming, I was always thinking, that the hotter it is, the more energy we have, the more power to us (skpping the floods of some coastal regions). I wasn't however sure how to exploit this energy. Well, perhaps AVE is the answer...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ok, I assume that the cost of heating that air at bottom is already calculated in.

      No.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Even if I doubt global warming, I was always thinking, that the hotter it is, the more energy we have, the more power to us (skpping the floods of some coastal regions). I wasn't however sure how to exploit this energy. Well, perhaps AVE is the answer...

      Coastal flooding is the least of our problems if global warming gets out of control.
      The real kick in the balls would be changing weather patterns fucking over our agricultural industry.
      Floods will displace people, but if the breadbasket dries out, everyone goes hungry, including the displaced.

      I guess you could use AVE to desalinate water and irrigate the entire country, but that would be the kind of infrastructure project beyond the means of private industry and our current political environment would not b

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      How hot it is matters not one bit, the limit to how much energy you can extract is the temperature difference. Your doubt of global warming seems likely cause by a lack of basic scientific understanding.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnot's_theorem_(thermodynamics) [wikipedia.org]

      • by Burz (138833)

        Apparently, Polish schools are as bad as US schools at teaching thermodynamic principles (though I would hope not).

    • This proposal utilizes entropy, like any energy source, not heat. Sure, if it provides a clean energy source, that will help global warming. I listened to an interview on the radio and what they want to do is use the waste heat from fossil fuel plants to produce these high entropy states, and thus tornadoes. It's a great idea, but in the larger context will it increase our reliance on fossil fuels? Or it can be used on nuclear plants to increase their efficiency. I don't know which way it could go.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Either way it would reduce reliance on fossil fuel. If you have a coal burning power plant making X megawatts and you can get another Y megawatts for "free" that means either less peaking plants need to be run or X can be reduced by some amount by burning less fuel.

        • Either way it would reduce reliance on fossil fuel.

          I'm all for reducing emissions but I find it difficult in the extreme to believe a modified exhaust pipe can extract significant amounts of electricity from the heat that leaks out of a coal plant. Coal plants are already designed to use the heat as efficiently as possible. The laws of thermodynamics say that nature will never allow you to use 100% of that heat, the laws of economics say it probably not worth the capital expenditure to suck any of the residual energy from the exhaust pipe. There's nothing n

  • This sounds like an episode of Sliders to me...
  • by pitchpipe (708843) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:43PM (#42364343)
    Energy from nothing and chicks for free. That ain't workin'.
    • by razorh (853659)
      Yeah. There's no such thing as chicks for free.
      • by fyngyrz (762201)

        "Money can't buy love, but it sure can buy you a yacht to pull up next to it" ...I think that was a Van Halen member, not sure. :)

  • how do I make one because it looks totally cool.
  • by timholman (71886) on Friday December 21, 2012 @06:08PM (#42364633)

    Google "Tornado Turbine" and look for the January 1977 issue of Popular Science. This idea has been around for a long, long time. Back then, the idea was to take advantage of solar heating of the tower to drive the vortex. I've seen similar ideas that were supposed to take advantage of natural pressure / temperature differentials along cliffs and mountains, etc. None have ever been made to work in any practical way.

    When someone fails to check the prior art and starts trumpeting about his or her re-invention of the wheel, then you can just about discount the claims from the start. Why should anyone trust the opinion of an engineer who can't even be bothered to do any background research?

    • by mcloaked (2791017)
      You posted what I was about to say in much the same way - an old idea from decades ago when all manner of weird and quirky ideas was bandied about from solar panels in orbit many miles square beaming microwave energy back to a receiver on earth (except any living thing in its path would be fried!), to shipping Antarctic icebergs to the desserts for water, to the captured vortex idea driven by a huge bonfire in the middle of the circular building with angled entrance ducts as in the reference for this articl
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Everything in its path would not be fried at all with those plans that use microwaves to transmit power from space. The amount of energy per square meter is held low enough to ensure that. Then a very large(in area coverd) antenna grid is used to relieve this. Are you afraid of being burned to death by your cell phone?

        THE MORE YOU KNOW .::::'*

      • an old idea from decades ago when all manner of weird and quirky ideas was bandied about from solar panels in orbit many miles square beaming microwave energy back to a receiver on earth (except any living thing in its path would be fried!),

        Except that:
        - Things wouldn't be fried, microwave-oven style, because microwave oven makers picked a frequency that is strongly absorbed by water (to heat food) while space-solar people picked on that passes through water very well (to not waste power heating clo

    • Link (Score:5, Informative)

      by sugarmotor (621907) on Friday December 21, 2012 @06:22PM (#42364827) Homepage
  • I assume it's obvious that it's going to be windy around the power station. How windy, and how far away will there still be strong winds?
  • Next we will be ionizing the air and letting it pass between some plates to generate electricity directly. (no moving parts)

  • This would be a good way to tap the remaining energy from a low quality(low delta) heat source such as a power plant cooling tower.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      This is basically a cooling tower, that's also capable of recycling some of the waste heat.

  • But ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Friday December 21, 2012 @07:21PM (#42365411)

    ... think of the ecosystem as a whole.

    If you tap the energy of tornadoes to generate power, it will reduce their remaining energy. Tap enough energy and they might become nearly extinct. If this happens, mobile homes, with no remaining natural predators, will multiply out of control.

  • The company proposing this says the cost could potentially eventually be as low as $0.03 per kilowatt hour. Translation: it costs way more than that.

    Meanwhile, the next province over from where the company is based in Sarnia, Ontario... HydroQuebec is charging $0.05 per kilowatt hour, today, for real-world use.

    • by Issarlk (1429361)
      There's only so many place where you can put a dam. What good is $0.05 per kwh if you can't buy any ?
      • by Guspaz (556486)

        We already get all of our power from hydro, and there's still lots of untapped capacity. I don't think not being able to buy any is a risk anytime soon.

  • sounds like the syfy channel movie of the week

  • Why don't we tap all that hot air coming out of Washington? Should be good for a megawatt or two!
  • Begs the question: what happens when a plane flies through? Does it get shredded to pieces?

  • This was being investigated in Spain as soon as 1980, as I remember from reading an article in a spanish scientific journal in that year. Sadly, i cannot locate the reference. But I remember a photo of the PM of that time, Adolfo Suarez, visiting the facility, and complaints of the researchers of lacking funds.
  • New or not, it has at least some potential. The article states the vortex could be maintained with industrial waste heat. This might improve efficiency for power generation plants that have waste heat effluent. The nice thing about that is the grid connection and switchgear is already local.

    Slapping one of these generators on any other industrial heat source could help power the plant itself, but could prove challenging to connect to the grid.

    I wonder what it sounds like.
  • ... to call it new. There have been numerous posts covering articles about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_tower_(downdraft) [wikipedia.org]
  • What a novel idea. I wonder if it will actually be practical?

    Ferret

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