Instead of capturing energy through the circular motion of a blade, Vortex turbines take advantage of a physical phenomenon known as vorticity. It's not something from a sci-fi movie but is an aerodynamic effect that creates a pattern of spinning vortices or whirlwinds. A good analogy is to imagine the little eddies that form around the edge of a canoe paddle when you move it through the water. This is the same principle — except substituting air instead for water, of course, and with the air moving around a stationary paddle (the turbine) that sticks out of the ground. Take a look:
As the wind blows past the turbine, little whirlwinds are created behind it, and at a certain resonance, they cause the structure to wobble. This kinetic energy oscillation is then used to power an alternator, which multiplies the frequency of the tower’s oscillation and converts the motion into usable electricity.
The bottom line? A drastically cheaper wind turbine to manufacture, install and maintain: It has no gears, bolts, or mechanically moving parts. Vortex claim that its design can reduce manufacturing costs by 53%, cut maintenance costs by 80%, and would represent a 40% reduction in both the carbon footprint and generation costs when compared to conventional bladed wind turbines. They’re also quieter, and present a much lower risk to birds who fly near them. A 490-foot tower could produce 1MW of wind-generated electricity. But first they will be producing smaller working prototypes, and recently launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo. The company has already secured millions of dollars in funding from private investors, and so Vortex turbines will become a reality regardless of whether the latest awareness and information campaign succeed.
The Vortex’s shape was developed by computers to ensure the spinning wind mini-cyclones (vortices) occur synchronously along the whole length of the mast. In its current prototype, the elongated cone is made from a composite of fiberglass and carbon fiber, which allows the mast to vibrate as much as possible. At the base of the cone are two rings of repelling magnets, which act as a sort of non-electrical motor. When the cone oscillates one way, the repelling magnets pull it in the other direction, giving a sort of slight nudge to boost the mast’s movement regardless of wind speed. This kinetic energy is then converted into electricity via an alternator that multiplies the frequency of the mast’s oscillation to improve the energy-gathering efficiency.
The prototype Vortex Mini, which stands just over 40 feet tall, can capture up to 40 percent of the wind’s power during ideal conditions- when the wind is blowing at around 26 miles per hour. Based on field testing, the Mini ultimately captures 30 percent less than conventional wind turbines. But that's not a real problem- you can put double the Vortex turbines into the same space as a propeller turbine, with no loss of wind harvesting effect.
For the time being, you’ll continue to see traditional bladed turbines dotting the landscape and out to sea, which founding entrepreneur David Suriol is actually happy about. He said:
“We can’t say anything bad about conventional wind turbines; they’re great machines, we’re just proposing a new way, a different way.”
Just a quick word about the company before wrapping up. Vortex is a Spanish tech start-up. It's funding, so far, has come from a Repsol Foundation Grant, a loan from the Spanish Government and venture capitalists in Spain (Spanish Angels). In February of this year, Vortex Bladeless relocated to Boston in the USA. Here it is working with Harvard University.
The founders of Vortex (picture courtesy of Vortex):
David Yañez. Engineer and the Vortex’s inventor and developer
Raul Martin. Engineer. "Looking for the perfection."
David Suriol. Entrepeneur, journalist and passionate about green energy.
For more information go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/vortex-bladeless#/story