Vortex bladeless turbines wobble to generate energy
Comment of the Day

May 19 2015

Commentary by David Fuller

Vortex bladeless turbines wobble to generate energy

My thanks to a subscriber for this fascinating article from Gizmag.  Here is the opening:

Looking somewhat like a giant reed gently swaying in the wind, the new Vortex bladeless wind-driven generator prototype produces electricity with very few moving parts, on a very small footprint, and in almost complete silence. Designed to reduce the visual and aural impact of traditional spinning-blade turbines, this new device takes advantage of the power contained in swirling vortices of air.

Many opponents of spinning wind turbines point to their supposed danger to birds and other flying animals, as well as their rather noisy operation and – particularly in commercial installations – their enormous size. Though these may well be excuses by those who prefer to stay with older electricity generating technologies that they know and trust, standard wind-driven turbines do have these issues and this tends to hold back their universal acceptance and use.

This is where the creators of the Vortex bladeless believe that their device has the advantage. A relatively compact unit, it relies on the oscillation of its reed-like mast in reaction to air vortices to move a series of magnets located in the joint near its base to generate electricity.

Though obviously not as efficient as a high-speed, directly wind-driven turbine, this is offset by the fact that the Vortex has fewer moving parts and is, according to the creators, up to 80 percent more cost effective to maintain. Coupled to the notion that it supposedly has a greater than 50 percent manufacturing cost advantage and a 40 percent reduction in its carbon footprint compared to standard wind turbines, the system also seems to offer direct economic advantages.

We've explored a number of bladeless wind-turbines before – the Solar Aero turbine being one (though, by definition, not really bladeless as it merely covered the spinning blades with a housing) and the Saphonianbeing another. The latter being more of a true bladeless "turbine," it still required hydraulic actuation of pistons to generate electricity, so its efficiency was probably not all that great (and, to be perfectly frank, it was not strictly a turbine either as it had no spinning parts).

The Vortex, on the other hand, is purported to take advantage of the swirling motion of wind and not direct force like the aforementioned units. This means that it can generate energy from the repeating pattern of vortices (known as the Kármán vortex street), which are generated as the air separates to pass by a blunt body, such as the Vortex structure itself.

This also means that groups of Vortex units can be huddled closer together as the disruption of air movement in the wind stream is nowhere near as critical as it is when positioning standard, blade-driven wind turbines. This will also help ameliorate the inherent efficiencies in each unit as they can be grouped much closer together than their standard turbine counterparts and, therefore, potentially generate more power per square meter.

David Fuller's view

For years I have ranted about contemporary windmills and wind farms, because of their expense, maintenance costs, inefficiencies, noise, ecological damage to birds and other wildlife, and visual blight on the landscape.  In contrast, the vortex bladeless turbines are a vast improvement. 

What never ceases to amaze me, although I comment on it all the time, is the incredible inventiveness of people all over the world, in response to a needs-must requirement to protect ourselves and our planet from potential calamities such as manmade global warming and ‘peak oil’.  In fact, only a decade ago it was still fashionable to assume that the cost of crude oil would continue to rise remorselessly, ruining our economies in the process.  Today, thanks to technology, ever higher oil prices are only an OPEC pipedream. 

From an investment perspective, I continue to regard the manufactures of these new energy technologies as highly speculative.  I now feel the same way about old, conventional energy companies, although some of them may be able to continue paying attractive dividends for a while longer. 

The real beneficiaries of cheaper energy are the global economy and everyone who uses energy.  Yes, many of the energy prices we currently pay are either still rising or have not come down very much, but they should become cheaper over the medium to longer term, at least in real terms.      

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