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Published on May 21st, 2015 | by Guest Contributor


Bladeless Wind Turbine — Reality Check

May 21st, 2015 by  

The Vortex Bladeless wind turbine recently covered here on CleanTechnica and many other sites is, unfortunately, yet another example of an impractical, uncompetitive wind turbine that is getting too much hype for its extremely weak results and potential.

The Vortex Bladeless wind turbine has essentially the same problems that all micro-wind turbines have. Wind non-experts don’t seem to understand these well enough to avoid big mistakes in their coverage. So I’ll run down 8 key problems.

  1. It’s tiny, and potential energy from the wind comes from swept area.
  2. It doesn’t move through a swept area as wind turbine blades do with limited materials, so scaling to intercept more wind is a virtually linear progression of materials to swept area, unlike HAWTs. This means it has fundamental limits to scale, and while it might possibly beat a tiny wind turbine, it won’t scale to anything useful economically.
  3. The claims that they make in the video of 50% cheaper to build are based on a small prototype with no experience in manufacturing. Similar claims are made by every wind innovator, but it’s never proven true before. Serious skepticism is required.
  4. The founders have no prior experience of any sort with wind or electrical generation or fluid dynamics for that matter. They made artificial noses and small electronic stuff in a couple of R&D ventures. Red flag.
  5. Many are reporting that these devices could be put in narrow spaces next to buildings with zero apparent comprehension that this would eliminate winds that would usefully power them.
  6. The mechanical resonance mechanism that they’ve designed to maintain oscillation depends on relatively stable winds, but their target market is for turbulent small turbine areas. Uh oh.
  7. Some are suggesting that this will be relatively noiseless, but oscillating poles creak. In fact, the tonality of creaking is more piercing than the blade pass frequency swoosh of turbines. The Vortex Bladeless material doesn’t even say anything about noise… “wisely.”
  8. Oh, look, prior art. The Windstalk concept — which went nowhere — claimed to do the same thing with piezoelectrics.

So, yeah, reality check.

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  • kimc

    Lots of armchair critics trying to sound knowledgeable. Let’s wait and see what kind of performance they actually get with these. Even if they don’t work, maybe someone with an open mind can learn something from them that would ultimately help in another situation. Too much ego in the world.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Ego or common sense paired with some knowledge of physics?

  • Nik Schumacher

    Remember Kevin Costner Waterworld? Remember the wind turbine on the boat?… Thats the real deal…

  • Toni Massari

    Yes, well, there is always someone prepared to take BIG Corporations’ bucks to play down innovations….. Where is the information about the Author’s qualifications in Engineering and renewables? Ah, I see.. missing! Well, what a surprise! LOL!

    • Bob_Wallace

      And there’s always someone willing to believe outrageous claims and dismiss facts and rational argument by invoking some pretense.

      What was it P. T. Barnum said? Something about a sucker born every minute?

  • Frank

    9. Hight. Take a look at the progression of wind turbines. Longer blades, for greater swept area, and taller to access higher speed winds. Available power goes up with the cube of the velocity, so a little faster makes a big difference. GE sells one with an up tp 155m tall tower. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to build a tower that big, and put a tiny turbine on it, and if you are thinking about several, add up the swept area, and see if you get close to say a 130m diameter circle.

  • cybernetichero

    I get what you are saying but these are similar to comments made about the whole idea of wind energy not so long ago. You never know where RnD can take you down the track.

    • Bob_Wallace

      One never knows what research will discover. But my web search finds no data which proves that this idea works. All I find is that the people running this company are “hoping” and seeking funding.

  • Jim M

    The prospective makers did say they were looking at 4KW systems which are similar to the system size of a standard household solar array. So I think the arguments about sweep areas and turbine size are a bit more than what seems to be intended by the makers. But then, I am not a scientist by any means.

    As for putting turbines between buildings! Here’s an idea from a non scientific person. What if you took a scaled up or down, milling wheel. You know, the ones they used to use in mills next to a water source to mill flour. Or several of them and placed them either at ground level or above a covered walkway (for safety) You could make them out of light weight materials to reduce weight. These would then be turned by the wind being forced between the buildings and produce energy for those buildings or for the national grid, or both.

    I am sure some bright spark out there could come up with a design that would work in variable wind speeds which seems to be the one thing that affects the wind turbines we have now. As I said, I am not a scientist nor an engineer so don’t be shooting me down just for making a suggestion that might or might not work.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Variable winds. Think about how it is, driving over roads with lots of potholes. Can’t maintain maximum speed, your car is getting jostled and you’re bouncing around. Same (sort of) with wind turbines, they work best when placed where the wind is nice and steady.

      We mount onshore wind turbines much higher than offshore wind turbines. The ‘stuff’ on the ground (trees, buildings, etc.) creates lots of turbulence while the much smoother surface of the water creates less.

      We could probably harvest some energy in the windy canyons created by clusters of large buildings. But the visual impact and noise of the turbines probably wouldn’t be appreciated.

  • Danijel X-evolution Petanjek

    1. Even if a few can be put on top of a roof of a house to supply energy it’s mroe then enough.
    2. Again.. i do not think it has economic/industry intention. it’s more of a household solution!
    3. We will not know till they finish it! there are so many ways you can addopt tech to it that would give the amount of movement required to produce energy, or even get energy from the smal amount of movement it makes.
    4. So unless you are a physics major you have no say in the ideas? pff..
    5. Placement is the key, you can put capacitors in place or movement limiters as to not to crack the mechanism that is designed to oscilate
    6. As stated before, the device has manny uses, you are imply missing the point of it.
    7. So? many a things make noise, if you live near a traffic streat you get noise all the time.
    8. Ideas need reforming as they go along, nothing can be done perfectly from scratch. as a scientist (or a wannabe like me) you should know that progress takes time. and anything that gets us in the right direction should be considered.
    I would defo install a few of thoes on the roof of my house, even if it powers only my PC it’s still a way of not to use the grid energy thats still mostly derived from fosils..

    • Bob_Wallace

      You could put some on your roof.

      The issue is whether it is the best use of money. If you want to get a lot of electricity for your dollar from the wind then go big. Go tall.

      Get your turbine way up high where wind is strongest, most regular, and cleanest (least turbulence). Make the swept area as large as possible.

      Smart people have been working on turning wind into electricity for over 50 years. Our turbines keep getting larger and our towers taller. The price of wind-generated electricity keeps falling.

  • Economist2011

    Another red flag… the author(s) is/are anonymous on this blog post.

  • farzan

    its not happen first time even when its first model turbine show to get positive feedback …many people said that its unnecessary to build ..

    • Bob_Wallace

      People, in general, are saying that without any furnished data showing that this device could produce affordable electricity it should be treated as an unproven idea. At best.

  • Bud45

    Interesting article written by someone with a very elitist attitude scratching for every possible objection. With his attitude, cell phones, cars, airplanes, etc. etc. could never possibly work – too many impossible obstacles to overcome. A flying machine could never possibly be developed by a couple of bicycle mechanics either.
    As in a movie I once saw about the development of the first combustion turbine the was the basis for the jet engines of today, the developer, in response to the comment “Of what possible use is it?”, said, “Of what possible use is a baby?”

    • Bob_Wallace

      I wouldn’t have been too optimistic about a cell phone built from a mud brick.

      • MrTonyD

        I once read about oil wells using “IP over mud”. Apparently, the tip could vibrate in order to communicate information about what the tip-based sensors were encountering.

        If somebody had been doing tests of modifying TCP/IP to work over mud it probably would have been dismissed as not “cost efficient” and without enought “theoretical efficiency” to ever make sense.

        But cost efficiency is based on economic considerations – which vary with time and place. And “theoretical efficiency” can often be scaled with parallelization techniques.

        So I’m glad to see people working on small bladeless turbines.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Work on them. That’s fine. Spend your time and money do the research if you think you’ve got a good idea.

          But don’t go out into public talking about your great “whatever” as if it works and would be competitive with other technologies until you’ve piled up the data to support your claim.

          At the very minimum do the engineering design and production cost work and have an independent firm review your numbers.

  • Driver

    This article would have said that because they were bicycle builders, the Wright brother couldn’t have invented the airplane.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Lots of people tried to invent the airplane. Most failed.

      The Wright brothers demonstrated that their idea worked. The bladeless wind turbine has not been demonstrated to work. No performance data has been presented that shows one could generate affordable electricity with this device.

      • Driver

        And no data was shown to prove that they could fly until they did. My point is, this may work. It seems that they have a proof of concept.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The Wright brothers measured the distance they flew and the time their plane stayed aloft.

          We see nothing similar from this company.

          • Driver

            Until they flew there was nothing to measure. My point here is simple, everything is not possible, right up to the point when someone actually does it. If these people think this will work then leave them alone and let them try.
            The article attacks the experience of the inventors as if great thing were never invented by a anyone outside of “the business.” Thomas Edison tried over 100 times to invent the light build and failed. Right up until he made it work.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s what they say on their front page –


            A technological leap forward and a revolution in wind energy. A more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way to produce energy.”

            They are making a claim for which they offer zero proof.

            This article points out the reasons their claims are unlikely to be supported and their lack of presented data.

            No one is attacking research. The push back is against making unsupported claims.

    • Larmion

      That flight was possible was known from (fairly simple) mathematical models. Roughly how a flying thingy would work followed logically from those same equations. The Wright brothers built something that had been around on paper for a long time.

      Mathematics is much less kind to this lovely bladeless contraption. How much energy can theoretically be harvested from a given flow of wind can be modelled precisely using equations that have been known for well over a century. And guess what? Even that idealized, theoretical upper limit shows that small wind turbines are terribly inefficient.

      So even if those guys managed to achieve what nobody else managed to do before by designing a small wind turbine that performs close to its theoretical optimum, it still won’t be worth bothering with.

      Just about every permuation of small wind turbine has been tried by now, from scaled down big turbines to piezoelectricity, Tesla generators and Venturi-effect based turbines. None are cost-efficient relative to big wind or solar.

  • patb2009

    when they made their comparison to micro-turbines rather then HAWTs i knew they were BSing. Turbines don’t scale down well. Hub to Tip ratio goes to heck.
    It’s why all the big money is in big HAWTs, not little 50 KW turbines.

  • So many armchair wind energy and grid experts in one place. The world and his wife have jumped on to this story as the innovation will be the holy grail of wind so the author is absolutely right to suggest caution. The guys have obviously worked hard to come up with this but as someone has already said, there seems to be prior art – but that’s to be decided on the industrial property front. Has anyone seen details of a patent application and where it’s currently at? The clue to backers of this project could be right under the video, viz ‘crowdfunding’.

    • Bob_Wallace

      In today’s renewable energy market with capital searching for good ideas I become extremely suspicious of a company seeking crowdsourcing to fund their idea.

  • Helios

    Points 1-8, tripe, and lots of it. These are conjecture not facts, unsubstantiated and just guesswork. I suspect either a fossil fuel fossil or (very sad) a turbine devotee.

  • Hans

    Seems to be a pattern here. A writer (let’s call him/her Tina) hypes some vapourware, attracts lot’s of comments and clicks. Then a debunking article follows attracting more clicks and comments. Nothing is leanred and the cycle is repeated.

    So a) Tina is very naive, b) Tina is very stubborn c) Tina does not care about quality, only about getting eyeballs (are CT writers paid per view?) d) this is part of the overall CT strategy to get readers.

    • Larmion

      True. But in her defense, she does have the daunting task of singlehandedly covering all those ‘revolutionary’ ideas people throw around.

      It’s hard enough to judge the merits of those in your own field, but downright impossible to do so across all cleantech fields (especially if you’re a journalist rather than an engineer).

      And let’s face it: Tina, like everyone, writes what her audience likes. Judging by the comments on her articles, there are still a lot of people willing to believe in every ‘cool’ idea. There are even those who love nothing more than saying ‘you can’t know that it won’t work’ even when the proposed idea flies in the face of physics.

      PS: I’ve used Tina because she’s the most frequent author of this kind of article, but she’s not alone.

      • GCO

        I’d counter that if someone doesn’t know about a given topic, that person alone is ill-suited to write about it.

        After having read a number of Tina’s articles, and being repeatedly appalled by her apparent lack of critical thinking (and sometimes the comments which follow), I now skip them; I wish there was a way to simply not even show them.

        Still, snake oil presented on this site gets some undeserved credibility and exposure, and may mislead readers into thinking that some magical better solutions are right around the corner; I’m concerned that this (or the subsequent disappointment) would drive those persons away from otherwise great existing green products, like “only” 16% efficient solar modules…

  • Donald Zenga

    As long as it can produce some power in a small area, its good. In cities, there is lot of space between 2 buildings or in the canals, narrow rivers where this concept can be used.

    Meanwhile a company with Tidal Turbines is making steady progress. Their tidal turbine is very similar to wind turbine and its placed in the water.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It comes down to resource allocation. If a device generates only a small amount of power for a large amount of money that’s not the direction we should head in.

      We need to get rid of fossil fuels ASAP. That means getting the most clean electricity for our available capital.

      So many of the innovative ideas come to the public with no meaningful performance data. That’s generally a warning sign that the backers haven’t been able to produce impressive data so they’re likely going to make vague promises of performance and hope they can sell some and make some money.

  • How about the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the transducer? The amount of motion this generates is pretty tiny compared to a rotary generator. I cannot imagine it generates much voltage or current.

    And the power output pulses by definition, so it would need an accumulator.

    • energyinfiforyou

      yes i also think like that but if they do some moderation with their accumulator by modifies its power….may be it will works better

  • rockfish66


  • WBrooke

    From a fluid dynamics perspective, it takes specific conditions to start generating a Karman vortex street behind a cylinder. The vortex shedding frequency would continuously change as the wind speed fluctuates, meaning the frequency of the generated electricity would be all over the place. You would need expensive electronics to clean up the signal enough to export electricity to the grid.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Buffer with a battery and then use an inverter to match grid voltage/frequency.

      • Larmion

        Capacitators would be better for that purpose than a battery.

        But you make it sound so simple. ‘Oh, just an inverter, lalala’. As WBrooke says, those things are pretty damn expensive when the input is so dirty and the output has to be pristine.

        And that’s the problem. Fitting expensive microcontrollers on a turbine worth a few million is fine. Doing the same on what will have to be a very cheap thingy in order to be attractive will be tricky. After all, the cost of control electronics doesn’t scale linearly with rated power.

        • Bob_Wallace

          It’s a solution for the noisy input.

          I said nothing about the overall economics of the system. I suspect this is yet one more non-workable idea. Small wind just never seems to be worthwhile except in some very limited conditions.

          • Bud45

            Without the distortion of lavish government subsidies, the monster wind turbines don’t make an acceptable return either!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, Bud, that train left the station and plunged over a cliff long ago.
            Onshore wind, without subsidies, is now the number one cheapest way to bring new capacity to US grids.

            Try to keep up.

  • Ross

    Could they be installed between buildings to take advantage of the wind tunnel effect? There’s a hell of a wind blowing between my office block and the next one most of the time.

    • wattleberry

      You read my mind. Maybe small HAWTs would work also? That new city they’re building in the UAE is actually placing buildings to create this effect as a natural air conditioner. Perhaps it could be dual purpose?

    • MrTonyD

      My understanding is that proximity to buildings creates turbulence. And turbulence is not the friend of getting a resonant frequency. So the economics of wind near buildings is quite bad – it would have to be justified instead by externalities – such as those from using less grid power and the autonomy provided by stand-alone generation systems.

  • newnodm


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