Every year in the Midwest US, hundreds of tornadoes are spawned by thunderstorm supercells. Many of these are short-lived and may not effect anyone, but others are hundreds of feet across and leave destructive paths miles long. This powerful force of nature, though, has spawned something else. What if the energy of the tornado could be harnessed?
This is kind of the idea that Canadian inventor Louis Michaud has in mind, but not with live tornadoes. Tornadoes are, simply put, vortices of air, driven by temperature differences at different altitudes.
Warm air rises, and under controlled conditions, a vortex forms, which is much safer than its wild sister on the Midwest plains. Michaud’s startup company, AVEtec, has been developing on a small scale a system that can recovery the energy from such vortices.
The Atmospheric Vortex Engine [AVE] is described this way: “In this design, warm or humid air is introduced into a circular station, where it takes the form of a rising vortex, i.e. a controlled tornado.
The temperature difference between this heated air and the atmosphere above it supports the vortex and drives multiple turbines. The vortex can be shut down at any time by turning off the source of warm air.”
Tornado-like vortices could be harnessed by AVE in existing manufacturing facilities, where there are already stacks that could contain the estimated-130-foot-high vortex required to generate power. The addition of AVE technology to an existing facility, could cost about 3¢/kWh and add zero carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions.
For comparison, coal-powered energy production costs up to 5¢/kWh and emits CO2 at a rate of 2 pounds CO2 per kWh. Michaud’s AVE technology, much like solar and wind installations, could be implemented to turn even a carbon-neutral facility into a carbon-negative one.