Tiny twisters could power your town — someday
You thought you were cool with your wind turbines, hippies? Canadian inventor Louis Michaud sees your wind turbines and raises you a freaking tornado.
Yes, climate change may be unleashing monster tornadoes upon us now, but those aren’t the tornadoes Michaud wants to “control and exploit.” Today the inventor won a grant through the Thiel Foundation’s “revolutionary” Breakout Labs to develop power-generating twisters.
[B]y today’s measure, Michaud’s idea is the definition of radical. Through his company AVEtec — the AVE standing for “atmospheric vortex engine” — the long-term plan is to take waste heat from a thermal power plant or industrial facility and use it to create a controllable twister that can generate electricity.
Here’s how it works: Waste heat is blown at an angle into a large circular structure, creating a flow of spinning hot air. We all know heat travels upward and as it does it spins itself into a rising vortex.
The higher the twister grows, the greater the temperature differential between top and bottom, creating stronger and stronger convective forces that act like fuel for the vortex, eventually allowing it to take on a life of its own.
The result is that hot air initially blown into the bottom of the structure starts getting sucked in so forcefully that it spins electricity-generating turbines installed at the base …
Given the destructive history of naturally formed tornadoes, many people might be freaked out by the thought of having man-made tornadoes intentionally scattered near cities and power plants.
Michaud assured that his twisters are much safer to operate and control than, say, a nuclear plant. And because they’re fuelled by the waste heat that’s initially supplied, all the operator has to do is throttle back or cut off that heat to weaken or stop the vortex.
True to its self-proclaimed radical spirit, Breakout Labs has also backed meat and leather 3D printing from Modern Meadow. Essentially it funds magic.
So hey, is anyone out there working on a protective forcefield for cyclists …?
Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for
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