by Caroline Reid: This new wind turbine wobbles elegantly in the wind, generating electricity without rotating blades…
“It looks like asparagus,” says David Suriol, one of the founders.
A Spanish company called Vortex Bladeless has produced a wind turbine that takes advantage of the vortices produced when wind moves around an obstacle.
If you put any object in the path of the wind, it will create an undulating vortex behind the barrier. This is a problem that has plagued engineers for years: bridges have fallen due to wind eddies.
Vortex Bladeless engineers have designed their turbine to take advantage of this vortex. The thin, cone-shaped turbine is made of carbon fiber and fiberglass with the motor at the bottom instead of the top (like traditional turbines) to improve sturdiness. The design ensures that the wind’s vortex spins synchronously along the entire cone. “The swirls have to work together to achieve good performance,” Villarreal explains. There is also a ring of magnets at the base of the cone that give the rotations a boost regardless of wind speed.
There are many advantages to the new Vortex design: It is cheaper to manufacture than current pinwheel turbines. Maintenance prices are also lower because there is no friction from mechanically moving parts (e.g., the blades on a traditional turbine), which reduces the need for oiling and bolt replacement. It is completely silent and birds can fly around them safely (though it has yet to be announced whether the turbine is nest-proof.)
New wind technology, however, always receives some skepticism: Most wind-harvesting technologies only work at a fraction of their most efficient output. Wind turbines need smooth, laminar airflow; the kind you only really find at about 100 meters (328 feet) above the ground. The wind that we know and love to hate is turbulent, messy and generally no good for wind turbines. Vortex claims that their wind turbine can adapt to any wind speed with the assistance of the magnets in its core; however, the details on how this actually works are frustratingly hard to come by.
The Vortex device has been computationally modeled, tested in a wind tunnel, and there are prototypes out in the open, but details on tests carried out by the company or independent labs are currently scant. It is also not the first wind turbine to take advantage of oscillatory technology. Researchers in the ‘80s found that the swirling oscillations were too random for reliable power generation, and the speed of oscillations put a lot of stress on the structure and caused it to break down unexpectedly.
The idea hasn’t been terribly successful in the past, so it will be interesting to see how Vortex Bladeless tackles these challenges. While this invention might not revolutionize Earth’s renewable power sources just yet, it’s still exciting to see what designers are creating.