The turbines we currently use for wind power are incredibly advanced pieces of technology. Everything inside of them –from the shape of their airfoils to the generators they spin– has been painstakingly engineered for maximum efficiency. They’re a very mature technology, but that’s not to say an alternative concept might not be an improvement.
Case in point: these incredible tube-like wind turbines from Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless. Through a clever manipulation of physics, the company’s turbines are able to generate electricity without the help of any large, spinning blades. It sounds crazy, but it’s totally legit — Vortex has been developing the turbines for the past few years, and even went so far as to build its own wind tunnel to prove the technology works.
Instead of capturing energy through the circular motion of a propellor, Vortex turbines take advantage of a physical phenomenon known as vorticity — an aerodynamic effect that creates a pattern of spinning vortices or whirlwinds. Think about the little eddies that form around the edge of a canoe paddle when you move it through the water. This is the same principle — except substituting air instead for water, of course, and with the air moving around a stationary paddle (the turbine) that sticks out of the ground.
As the wind blows past the turbine, little whirlwinds are created behind it, and when they get big enough, they cause the structure to oscillate. This kinetic energy is then used to power an alternator, which multiplies the frequency of the tower’s oscillation and converts the motion in to usable electricity.
The result? A drastically cheaper wind turbine. Vortex claims that its design can reduce manufacturing costs by 53%, cut maintenance costs by 80%, and would represent a 40% reduction in both the carbon footprint and generation costs when compared to conventional bladed wind turbines. They’re also quieter, and present a much lower risk to birds who fly near them.
Vortex hasn’t yet begun production of its planned full-size, 490-foot turbine (capable of 1 megawatt of power), but the bulk of its R&D is done, and they’ve produced a number of smaller working prototypes. They’re extremely close to launching a pilot program to get the turbines out into the world, and to help make that happen, they’ve recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
It’s worth noting that the campaign isn’t so much about launching the turbine as it is about spreading awareness. The company has already secured millions of dollars in funding from private investors, and so Vortex turbines will become a reality regardless of whether the campaign succeeds — but every cent counts.
Obviously, you won’t receive a turbine of your own if you pledge your support, but if you back the project now you can get your hands on some sweet Vortex Bladeless merch (t-shirts, hoodies, etc.) — along with, of course, as the satisfaction of knowing you helped a brilliant invention come to life.