The Thiel Foundation announced today three new grants awarded through Breakout Labs, its revolutionary revolving fund to promote innovation in science and technology. The most recent award takes the program into clean energy, with a bold new proposal to harness the power of atmospheric vortexes. Breakout Labs has awarded a total of twelve grants of up to $350,000 each.
AVEtec is the brainchild of Canadian engineer, Louis Michaud. His Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) harnesses the physics of tornados to produce extremely cheap and clean energy. In his 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.
Among its advantages over other sources of energy, AVE power generation neither produces carbon emissions nor needs energy storage. AVEtec projects that the cost of the energy it generates could be as low as 3 cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the least expensive forms of energy production. An AVE power station could have a diameter of 100 meters and generate 200 megawatts of electrical power, the same order of magnitude as conventional coal power stations.
“We started with bench-top models and then did a CFD computer modeling study at the University of Western Ontario with Ontario Centres of Excellence funding. That led to the construction of a 4meter diameter outdoor prototype which we built and tested successfully in Petrolia Ontario in 2009.”
The 8 meter diameter prototype at Lambton College will produce a 40meter tall vortex with a diameter of 30cm. It will power a 1meter diameter turbine for testing purposes. “Power output increases geometrically with size, so commercialization will become economically viable when we build a 40meter diameter prototype in 2015” says Michaud.
The AVE uses low-temperature waste heat to create a tornado-like atmospheric vortex. In contrast with a real tornado, the vortex can’t go anywhere because it is anchored to its heat source. So it is really more like a dust devil or waterspout, and it serves as a low-cost virtual chimney. A leading cooling tower engineering firm in Germany is discussing applications with its major clients. With the addition of a virtual chimney, a $15 million mechanical draft cooling tower would work even better than a $60 million natural draft cooling tower.
“The real prize will be using a large scale AVE to drive turbines”, says Michaud. “Using the low temperature waste heat from a 500MW thermal power plant could generate an additional 200MW of power, increasing capacity by 40% and producing perfectly green electricity at less than three cents per kilowatt hour.”
The AVE is able to transfer ground-level heat up and reject it to the much colder upper atmosphere (-60 °C), it becomes feasible to use existing low-temperature heat sources and extract additional energy from them.
Tornado Vortex Chimney
Pure Tornado Power
AVE power can also be produced in peripheral turbines. The turbines can exhaust either upstream of the tangential entries or in the center of the vortex. A 200 MW vortex engine could have 20 x 10 MW turbines each driving a 10 MW electrical generator.
What is the net impact of an AVE on global warming?
The vortex engine can help to alleviate global warming in several ways.
1. The vortex engine increases the quantity of electrical energy produced by thermal power plants without increasing fuel consumption thereby permitting a reduction in the quantity of fuel required to meet human power needs.
2. A vortex engine causes upward heat convection in the troposphere to take place slightly earlier than it would without vortex assistance thereby reducing the temperature at the bottom of the atmosphere. The vortex moves the heat higher up in the atmosphere permitting it to be radiated to space with less interference from greenhouse gases.
3. A vortex engine whose heat source is either warm sea water or warm humid air produces power without requiring the combustion of fuel except for startup.
Sources – Atmospheric Vortex Engines, Breakthrough Labs