A retired ExxonMobil engineer tinkering away in his garage developed a novel new way of generating electricity by manufacturing tornadoes, and if he can prove his device works safely on a large scale, it could potentially change the landscape of the energy market.
Louis Michaud built a prototype of his system, the "Atmospheric Vortex Engine" (AVE), that's capable of generating a controlled vortex to capture mechanical energy produced when hot air is carried upward by convention in the atmosphere.
Michaud creates the vortex by sending hot air rushing in to the bottom half of the AVE and up into a cylindrical chamber. As the hot air rises it will start to generate a vortex as it spins in a circular pattern; as the vortex grows taller it pulls in more hot air from the bottom. The energy of the vortex can generate electricity by spinning turbines affixed to the cylinder.
According to the AVE website, a 200-meter-wide AVE could generate 200 million watts of electrical power at a cost as low as $0.03 per kilowatt hour.
So far, Michaud has built seven prototypes, according to PopSci. But the size of the prototypes is so small that the energy generated isn't very impressive. But Michaud thinks that if a larger vortex is generated by a large AVE, then the potential energy creation would be huge.
One theory he has to get the hot air needed to fuel his vortexes is by using the waste heat generated from existing power plants. By capitalizing on heat waste from power plants (such as steam from the cooling stacks of nuclear power stations) an existing power plant's energy output could increase by as much as 20 percent, Michaud said, according to PopSci.
The idea has generated traction with investors who see promise in Michaud's vision of the future of energy. PopSci reports he recently secured the backing of Breakout Labs, which provides seed money to innovative companies.
But some question how safe a man-made E-F5 strength tornado churning in a cylinder can be.
Nilton Renno, a professor at the University of Michigan and an atmospheric convection expert, thinks Michaud's theory is solid, but expresses fear when imagining the AVE system on a large scale.
"The problem is that if you create a storm, you force it to be organized and I don't see any guarantee that the storm won't get disorganized," he said, according to PopSci.
Michaud said the AVE system would have plenty of failsafe mechanisms, just like any other power station, noting that simply shutting the hot air vents which fuel the vortex from the bottom would stop the cycle and kill the tornado.
"The chance of the vortex going outside the station is minimal," Michaud said.
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