Bladeless Wind Turbine Could Generate Energy at Lower Cost

May 22, 2015 | 01:49
Bladeless Wind Turbine Could Generate Energy at Lower Cost
Bladeless Wind Turbine Could Generate Energy at Lower Cost
The Spanish company Vortex Bladeless is developing a new type of wind power generator that operates without blades.

Last March another carbon dioxide record was broken. For the first time CO2 levels stayed above 400 parts per million for a whole month. The IPCC estimates we need to limit the concentration of greenhouse gases to 450 ppm to have a likely chance to limit global warming to 2 degrees and avoid dangerous climate change.

Energy consumption is a huge contributor to global emissions, about 70%. Transitioning to a low-carbon energy system is therefore crucial to meeting the 2C goal.

The combined global effort to do so, appears to be paying off. In March the IEA reported energy-related emissions stalled in 2014. For the first time in 40 years emissions did not increase with the exception of the early 1980's, 1992 and 2009, all years of economic downturn. But in 2014 the global economy expanded 3%, showing signs of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions.

But much stronger push for decarbonizing the energy system is needed.

Turbines don't run on wind but on subsidies

The share of renewable energy of global final energy consumption reached an estimated 19% in 2012. But a large share of that is from sources with limited growth opportunities like hydropower and traditional biomass. New growth will have to come from modern renewables like wind, solar and geothermal

Wind generated less than 1% of total global energy production and 2.9% of global power production with 318 GW total global capacity in 2013.

Although wind energy is on the rise with an average market growth of 21% per year over the past decade, the technology faces tough opposition. From politicians who dismiss it claiming that turbines don't run on wind but on subsidies (although this argument is sufficiently neutered after last week's IMF report estimating total fossil fuel subsidies at $5.3 trillion for 2015) and people who don't want gigantic pinwheels polluting the horizon.

The Vortex Bladeless wind generator addresses both objections.

Vortex Bladeless

David Suriol founder of Vortex Bladeles explained their invention to Renewable Energy Magazine: 'Our device captures the energy of vorticity, an aerodynamic effect: as the wind bypasses a fixed structure, its flow changes and generates a cyclical pattern of vortices. Once these forces are strong enough, the fixed structure starts oscillating.

'Our technology maximizes the resulting oscillation and captures that energy. Naturally, the design of such a device is completely different to a traditional turbine. Instead of the usual tower, nacelle and blades, our device has a fixed mast, a power generator and a hollow, lightweight and semi-rigid fiber glass cylinder on top.'

Gone are the pinwheels and because the device does not have any moving parts in contact the company estimates 51% lower maintenance cost and 53% lower manufacturing costs.

Unproven technology

In his article tellingly titled You Should Probably Be Skeptical About This Bladeless Wind Turbine, Chris Clarke warns the hype around Vortex Bladeless might be nothing more than, well, a hype.

Vortex Bladeless has been very sparse in sharing technical details about its prototype, says Clarke, so it is hard 'to evaluate whether the company's turbines will actually work.'

He points at research from the early 1980s of similar technology then called 'oscillating vanes'. The study, performed by the US Solar Energy Research lnstitute, concluded that:

“It appears, then, that most of the advantages of the oscillating vane are the same as those of the comparable [standard wind turbine, which] has advantages that the oscillating vane does not have.”

The greatest risk, SERI found, was that the very forces the oscillating vane is build to exploit could put too much stress on the device and cause it to break.

But, as Clarke already points out himself, science and technology have progressed since the 80s. New materials and techniques may address the perceived risks of three decades ago.

And things have changed in other areas as well. The engineers who considered the options back then could not have foreseen that popular opposition to pinwheels dotting the landscape would hinder a rollout of wind technology. The oscillating vane has properties that did not seem advantageous back then, but now, risen again as Vortex Bladeless, touch a nerve. The hype around the Vortex being proof of that.

The need for a transition to a low-carbon economy in 2050 cannot be overstated. We're going to need all the available technology and new inventions to boot. Hopefully the Vortex Bladeless will florish beyond the hype to become one of the solutions.

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