Clean Power vortex bladeless micro wind turbine

Published on May 1st, 2015 | by Tina Casey

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New Whirlwind-Attracting Bladeless Micro Wind Turbine Gets Harvard Cred

May 1st, 2015 by  

We’ve covered vertical wind turbines before, but this one has them all beat. The startup Vortex Bladeless is developing a — you guessed it — bladeless micro wind turbine shaped like a super-long popsicle stick only rounder, like an ice cream cone without any ice cream. From a distance it looks like a pole stuck in the ground, so at first glance you might thing that there isn’t anything there.

However, the technology does generate electricity, and it has attracted interest from Harvard University as well as SunEdison’s TerraForm Power renewable energy unit and Dat Venture, a startup incubator recently launched by the IT consulting firm Efron Group, so you’re probably going to start hearing more about Vortex Bladeless sooner rather than later.

vortex bladeless micro wind turbine

The Vortex Bladeless Micro Wind Turbine

Vortex Bladeless relies on an aerodynamic phenomenon called vorticity, in which wind flowing around a structure creates a pattern of small vortices or whirlwinds. No problema as long as they are relatively small.

The parallel effect in fluid dynamics is called the Kármán vortex street (or sheet) effect, referring to the pattern of eddies that forms when a fluid goes around a body or structure.

Translated into aerodynamics, once the mini-whirlwinds get large enough, they can cause a structure to oscillate, and if you could capture the mechanical energy of that movement, there’s your electricity.

Vorticity can be incredibly powerful, and you can get a dramatic example from the notorious Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which was hit by strong winds and began wriggling like a rubber band before collapsing into the Tacoma Narrows, just a few months after it opened back in 1940:



 

When you apply the principle to a vertical micro wind turbine, what you start with is a pole-like structure without blades or other moving parts.

That sounds simple enough, except that the individual structure will only oscillate at particular frequencies. The trick is to get more bang out of each turbine by broadening the range of frequencies.

The folks at Vortex Bladeless have addressed the problem by developing a “magnetic coupling system” that takes advantage of different oscillation amplitudes:

…when wind intensifies, the magnetic force of repulsion goes up, which reduces the distance between the rod and the magnet. As a result, the oscillation and the potential of generated energy increases to the maximum. With that, Vortex can automatically vary rigidity and “synchronize ” with the incoming wind speed, in order to stay in resonance without any mechanical or manual interference.

Here’s a video from Vortex Bladeless that explains the whole thing:

The icing on the cake, claims Vortex Bladeless, is a design that chops the manufacturing and maintenance costs of conventional wind turbines in half.

The Way Forward For Micro Wind Turbines

We’ve had some lively conversations about micro wind turbines over here at CleanTechnica and on our sister site Planetsave. The main point of contention is the cost effectiveness of micro wind turbines, variously defined as less than one megawatt or less than five megawatts per turbine. Vortex Bladeless falls into the smaller of the two categories, with an initial product line of two models, a 1-megawatt Gran and a 4-kilowatt Mini.

However, we’ve been noticing that at least in some market sectors, a relatively high cost per kilowatt-hour is not necessarily a deal breaker.

In the tourism sector, France’s Eiffel Tower is a standout example. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, this iconic paean to technology recently got a full on green makeover, including a pair of high visibility vertical micro wind turbines embedded in the tower itself.

In the US, the professional sports market is an early adopter. We can think of at least two football teams that play in stadiums rimmed with micro wind turbines, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills.

Representing the US commercial sector is Ford, which has been tricking out some of its dealerships with EV charging stations powered by sail-type micro wind turbines integrated with a solar array. General Electric is another US company dipping into the micro wind/EV charging market.

So at least in terms of visibility and green branding, there seems to be a growing appreciation for micro wind turbines.

The US Energy Department also foresees additional value in terms of a more resilient, distributed energy generation profile, with potential growth in agriculture as well as the commercial and residential markets.

Last year, the agency launched a modestly funded ($1.3 million) but far-reaching micro wind turbine initiative, aimed at the 5-to-250-kilowatt end of the market.

As for how Vortex Bladeless could fit into all of this, the turbine’s ultra-slim silhouette could enable it to fit into all sorts of tight spaces where larger turbines can’t, with additional brownie points if it generates little or no noise along with electricity.

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Image Credit (top, screenshot): Courtesy of Vortex Bladeless.


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Charly A

    “However, we’ve been noticing that at least in some market sectors, a relatively high cost per kilowatt-hour is not necessarily a deal breaker.”

    In the context of wind energy a “relatively high cost per kilowatt-hour” is *absolutely* a deal breaker! In the context of ANY competitive market a relatively high cost per (unit useful product) is a deal breaker!

  • anotherworriedmom

    Think of all those “wind tunnels” that you find between buildings in downtown areas. You could have self running cities. Interesting.

  • Senlac

    I hope the 4 kWh design works. It would work well with a solar of similar size. But we really need to see the performance data. Millions of solar/Vortex or other wind, for home and business could move us a long way to local energy independence. As battery technology gets better, the grid will become obsolete.

    • Bob_Wallace

      ” the grid will become obsolete”

      Very highly unlikely.

      • Senlac

        For the most part I would agree, but it all depends on where you are. Certain places it might just happen sooner than you expect.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I expect there will be some grid abandonment in Australia.

          And I expect that after a noticeable number of people leave the grid the government will panic and do something about the high cost of electricity in Australia.

          Remember, the high cost is mainly due to overbuilding the grid in expectation of continued demand growth which, due to efficiency and end-user solar, did not materialize. My guess is that the government will find a way to “forgive” the debt incurred and drop the price of electricity.

          Australia is unique. Hawaii has high grid prices but they should quickly drop as Hawaii leaves expensive diesel behind and moves to much cheaper renewables.

          I’ve been off the grid for about 20 years. I can assure you that only a small percentage of people will go off grid simply because it’s just too demanding in order to save a few dollars a month.

          The grid will not die. In fact, the grid will likely expand as we bring more EVs online.

  • David Fritz

    I would like to contact the company in Spain that is doing this research. Please email me (fritzfarms2016@gmail.com) their email address or any information about this company. Thank you. GOD Bless

  • Simon Mahan

    I think CleanTechnica should do more research before publishing articles on fad wind turbines.

    Fad wind turbines do double duty for anti-renewable energy activists: they perpetuate false negative stereotypes of wind power, and then fail to deliver substantial quantities of clean, cheap power.

    Fad wind turbines support negative and incorrect stereotypes of conventional turbines (the big, three-bladed ones), including arguments regarding birds, noise, price, size and low wind speeds, as marketing tactics and ploys to get media attention and money. Then, when fad wind turbines don’t live up to their over-hyped promise, they validate an otherwise false negative stereotype: that wind turbines fail to meet expectations.

    Online publications are doing a real disservice to the future of clean tech (and their readers) by perpetuating the hype of fad wind turbines without hard data. If people begin investing in the Vortex Bladeless Wind Turbine through some sort of crowd-sourcing effort (as the inventors announced, is their intended way of getting more money), because they read a sensational article from online news sources such as Gizmag, WIRED, Phys.org, CleanTechnica and Grist; who should be held liable if the investment doesn’t pan out?

    Sharing blogs and tossing good money into crowd source campaigns, without good data and research, perpetuates the hype. Some “revolutionary” turbine inventors and sellers peddle the same false negative stereotypes of conventional wind turbines that anti-renewable energy activists employ. Coincidentally, the Vortex turbine has taken money from Repsol – a major Spanish oil and gas company.

    Here’s a list of information you should have investigated before reporting on this fad turbine: http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2015/06/01/vortexbladelesswindturbine/

  • David

    It’s really normal to be skeptical with a new invention. We would like to share some answers to a several questions with this post http://vortexbladeless.com/blog.php

  • patb2009

    I am dubious this scales. given they only compare to micro turbines, i’m fairly certain they either don’t know the science or are BSing

    • Bob_Wallace

      If you look on the Bergey site (Bergey builds good smaller turbines) you’ll see this sort of information about their turbines….

      AWEA Rated Power: 8.9 kW at 11 m/s (24.6 mph)
      AWEA Rated Sound Level: 42.9 dB(A)
      AWEA Rated Annual Energy: 13,800 kWh at 5 m/s (11 mph)
      Start-up Wind Speed: 3.4 m/s (7.5 mph)
      Cut-in Wind Speed: 2.5 m/s (5 mph)
      Nominal Power: 10 kW @ 12 m/s (27 mph)
      Cut-Out Wind Speed: None
      Furling Wind Speed: 15.6 m/s (35 mph)
      Max. Design Wind Speed: 60 m/s (134 mph)

      When I look on the Vortex Bladeless website I find no, zero, nada performance data.

      http://www.vortexbladeless.com/home.php

      That tells me that probably these people are attempting to sell something that they haven’t tested or that they have tested and are ashamed to post their performance data.

      • 3psilon

        Bah, it’s a prototype. Needs at least a year of measurement. I’m skeptical, though, because of the small swept area. Maybe after all, it won’t be cheaper than a simple vertical axis turbine…

        • Bob_Wallace

          If one has a prototype they take it outdoors and hook it up. They also hook up an anemometer. They take the data from each and work up a report of things like cut in speed, electricity produced at different wind speeds, etc.

          If a company has a prototype, is not disclosing performance data, and is asking for other people’s money a reasonable person would assume a scam.

          • 3psilon

            From their Indiegogo campaign page:

            “We need to be much higher to have the same swept area, in fact, it is almost twice as high. Though, keep in mind that the normalized cost of energy (LCOE) of the same swept are will be 40% less expensive.

            To scale the equipment, you need to increase the height. The swept area increases in a linear relationship with the square of its height (the same as for HAWT)”

            This is basically the same constraint that other VAWTs have. You just don’t see VAWTs larger that a few dozen kW-s. I don’t get why the developers don’t understand this.

            I’m pretty sure that they DO have a working prototype, I just wonder why they are reluctant to release at least some preliminary performance data – unless the numbers that came out are disappointing.

            In any case, I think they just wanted to get some attention, and extra money so that they can keep up with patent costs and get an investor.

            There is no free lunch when it comes to wind energy – whether it’s a HAWT airfoil, a simple Savonius VAWT or some oscillating stuff like this, swept area and the Betz law still apply.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “This is basically the same constraint that other VAWTs have. You just don’t see VAWTs larger that a few dozen kW-s. I don’t get why the developers don’t understand this.”

            Because you can take the performance data from a VAWT at a given height and mathematically “run it at a higher altitude”. If it isn’t performing well at ten feet off the ground compared to a HAWT then there’s no reason to assume that it will perform better than a HAWT if placed 100 meters off the ground.

            Very large VAWTs have been installed. Back in the early days of wind turbine research over 200 very large VAWTs were installed. They simply did not return enough energy to justify their expense.

            Other designs were also tested. Turbines with trailing blades. Turbines with more than three blades. All sort of stuff. Testing data culled out the poor performers.

            If a a simple Savonius VAWT or other fancy eggbeater design worked there would be data to demonstrate its efficiency. Testing a wind turbine is not rocket science, it’s rather simple engineering. Hook it up. Measure what it produces at different wind speeds. Draw a graph.

            If a company claims to have a working prototype and can’t show you performance data then there is a very high likelihood that they are bullshitting and attempting to get into someone’s pocket.

  • NicholB

    The shape reminds me of the lance used by don Quixote to tilt at windmills 🙂

  • Vauban

    Questions:
    1) What is the minimum wind speed necessary for these devices to work?
    2) How do they handle circulating winds-winds coming from different directions?
    3) How durable are they?

    • Hans

      4) What is the Pv curve, i.e. the power as a functions of windspeed?

  • Hans

    Another “break-through” micro-windturbine that will give wind energy a bad name and will leave investors with frustrations and an empty wallet.

    Micro-wind has it’s place: at remote off-grid locations. In the built enviornment they will always be only an expensive non-solution that produce a negligible amount of power.

    Tina, don’t you learn from the comments, or are you just so eager to get clicks that you keep on promoting these useless “inventions”?

    • Michael G

      If you read the links that she and others provided, you would have seen that remote regions of the developing world is precisely where the co. is hoping to place their products.

      • Hans

        Which of the many links? I am not checking all links. The vortexblades website is just a lot of claims hidden in irritating animations.

  • I’ve seen my fair share of microturbine breakthroughs. I am inoculated with an overdose of skepticism that will protect me for an attack of enthousiasm.

    Let’s first see if it really works and isn’t the umpteenth ‘perpetuum mobile’ of wind power.

    I would love to get one in my back garden if it is really silent and produces a reasonable amount of power. Normal, rotating wind turbines will need a permit and I’m not likely to be granted one in my city.

  • Michael G

    When we go south on CA 101 to So. Cal. there is this one little farm in the middle of nowhere with one – count them – one – huge wind turbine standing up near a barn. I like the look of it, but I can understand why some might not and this would seem to alleviate some of aesthetic complaints about wind.

    Renewable Energy is going to require a lot of solutions for all the different issues. This looks like a very interesting one.

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    Very interesting. Is it really quiet though ? I would expect these machines to make a fair bit of noise.

    • jdavies

      It seems like it will be very quiet, they have stated there are no moving parts in contact, due to the magnetism, and the movement of the tower is unlikely to generate much noise as it moves in the air.

  • David

    Really interesting technology that seems is not going to make any noise and killing birds. As I saw in internet this Vortex will oscillate under 20HZ… good for Cape Cod’s people, no noise, no blade shadows.
    Thank you Tina for sharing it. Elon Musk should talk with this company, the Tesla’s batteries will need devices like Vortex to charge not only from the sun, also from this kind of wind “turbines”.

  • JamesWimberley

    “In terms of visibility and green branding, there seems to be a growing appreciation for micro wind turbines.” Quite. The PR niche.
    Perhaps the blog should create a scale, based on reader votes, of the realism of cleantech innovations. Put large horizontal-axis onshore wind turnive at 10: fuly tested, repiicable, economic, today. Put space-based mirrors at

    • Michael G

      Every little bit helps. The upside for this in terms of lower O&M and more places in which it can be put are huge advantages.

      As a meta-issue, why do you (and many others) feel compelled to prognosticate on the viability of this and other innovations? Is the NSF monitoring the comment section of this site to determine funding allocations? My attitude is usually, “whoa! cool idea – maybe it will work!”

      • Larmion

        The problem with that attitude is that both private and public funding for science is extremely limited. Scarce resources must be allocated on a maximum likelyhood of succes basis, not on a ‘cool idea’ basis.

        I can assure you that I’ve had to come before panels of prognosticators more times than I’d like to remember in order to get my research (partially) funded.

        So why do we replicate that here on CT? Because it’s fun, mostly. Also as a counterweight to the relentless, generally unfounded optimism of Tina. That’s not meant as a personal attack by the way, it’s a really challenging job to discuss all the ‘revolutionary ideas’ out there.

        • Michael G

          I see it all now. You are so very right. Life is but a futile, endless struggle against the dark forces of entropy and decay, where the strong oppress the weak, justice succumbs to greed and only the inevitable stench of corruption from the all-conquering worm is sure. The hollow vacuity of our empty souls cries out in an uncaring universe for fulfillment but the void answers not and we are left to contemplate our own meaningless existence in the dark solitude of our emptiness.

          Tina’s unfounded optimism crushes the soul in the bitter irony of cruel fate. Prince Andrei fails to return from the front, Beatrice is forever lost, and the malodorous toxicity of our spiritual nullity lingers on. As I gaze from the cliffs of Santa Cruz, searching over the vast seas for meaning, only one tenuous thought enters my tortured soul – whoa dude! surf’s up – gotta go!

          And man, is funding hard to get or what? I mean really, ya know?

  • jdavies

    This seems very promising. Even if they can’t scale up massively, their cheapness and convenience means they will certainly have many applications.

    I’d also like to know how close they can be put together, could we see whole fields of them? Like a field of giant grass?

    Also, would they (or a variant of them) work horizontally?

    With their tiny silhouette and bladeless design, could these be placed alongside roads? That would open up millions of potential sites with no new environmental impact.

    Also, do we have anyone who can give us an idea of size comparison between these and an equivalently rated standard turbine?

    • mike_dyke

      From that link I gave you above…

      “How much power is a device like this able to generate and how does that compare with conventional wind turbines?

      The first Vortex will be 4 kW and 12.5 metres in height, for
      small-scale/residential wind. Because our swept area is lower, we need
      to be higher than traditional wind turbines. Fun fact: a 4 metre high
      mast made by standard composite materials weighs 3.8 kilograms.

      When we compare the two technologies (Vortex vs conventional wind
      turbine), Vortex can collect 30 percent less energy from the same swept
      area, but it is so cheap that the costs of energy are reduced by over 40
      percent. Plus, we achieve a reduction of operational expense (OPEX) and
      capital expense (CAPEX) of over 50 percent.

      There are minor issues related to logistics and manufacturing. The
      manual process to build a blade is far away from how we are going to
      make our ‘bladeless’ structure, but the concept is easy to automatize.

      Surely these generators will still have a visual impact on
      the landscape if deployed in large numbers, are you therefore expecting
      or already encountering any opposition from anti-wind interests?

      Just the opposite, everybody recognises the more ‘natural’ structure in Vortex than the multi-blade wind turbines.

      Fortunately, we can install more power in less space. Not just in the
      open countryside, but also on building roofs or, in the future, for
      offshore structures. Our wind wake is more narrow than the conventional
      wind turbine.

      We tested in a wind tunnel to put one Vortex just in front of another
      and the second one actually benefits from the vortices given off by the
      first structure. Different institutions are in love with this power
      wind generator (MIT, Harvard, Bird Life etc).”

      • jdavies

        Thanks Mike

        • Rita

          As for the visual impact, look at power poles, cell phone towers etc.

          Martin

      • stoffer

        Is it only the swept area? Let’s model this as an airfoil – the vortex detachment swinging back and forth makes it equivalent to an airfoil with angle of attack changing back and forth. So this is just a weird tubular airfoil. The power extracted will be related to the mass-flow affecting the device. Now, how does the mass-flow affecting an airfoil change with the airfoil span? My gut feeling is that it will be somewhere between linear and quadratic function of the span.

    • timbuck93

      Ah that would be nice. Warn (yellowish) green wind machines in a field. Very fitting.

    • Dragon

      I would think that mounting one horizontally would only capture wind blowing mostly from only the two directions perpendicular to the pole, whereas vertical mounting captures wind from any direction.

      • Mike Shurtleff

        I think the problem with this is you need similar wind speed across the entire device to get balanced vortex shedding, i.e. to take advantage of harmonic motion. Same wind speed means same oscillation frequency.

  • djr417

    umm that Eiffel Tower turbine story is a joke. produces very little energy, while the tower uses considerably more- the turbines cover less than 1% of its usage IIRC (yes a step in the right direction, but reeks of greenwashing rather than actual energy conservation). Some of the other moves theyve made will have a bigger impact- ie- switching to LED’s.

  • nullbull

    One quibble – the bridge did not collapse into the Tacoma River. That’s the Tacoma Narrows – a salt water passage in Puget Sound. There is no “Tacoma River.”

  • mike_dyke

    I like the idea – Let’s hope it works scaled up.

    Without the blades, would you be able to put a lot of them close together?

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