In theory, somebody saying, “I have figured out a way to power the Earth using tornadoes” would be a positive thing. However, I picture the person saying this swiveling around in a chair with a really high back, cackling with his feet pedaling in the air while he massages the side of his cat’s neck with his thumb ring. But maybe project creator Louis Michaud isn’t really a power-hungry mastermind bent on unleashing a twirling New World Order upon us.
Michaud, a Canadian engineer from Western University, has designed a concept for a generator he calls the Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE), which creates its own controlled cyclones for cheap and efficient energy production. His company AVEtec are in coordination with The Thiel Foundation in creating a proof of concept demonstration of the AVE.
For those unfamiliar with the Thiel Foundation, it was started by Peter Thiel, the German-born billionaire whose past creations and investments have included Paypal, Facebook. LinkedIn, Yelp, and a slew of others. He’s a philanthropist who seeks scientific and technological breakthroughs behind his donations. He started Breakout Labs last year to offer grants to companies pushing inventive envelopes. He’s the guy who gave the company Modern Meadow a few hundred thousand dollars to make 3-D printed meat. It must be nice to be goal-oriented and exceedingly wealthy.
Back to the tornado machine. On paper, it seems to make sense. Warm air is pulled into a central circular station, and the vortex is created. Because the atmosphere above is cooler than the warm air below, the vortex continues spinning, powering multiple turbines. To shut it down, you just stop the flow of warm air. That’s it. The power output would be similar to coal power stations, but without any carbon emissions let loose into the atmosphere, and the costs of generating said energy would be as low as 3 centers per kilowatt hour.
You don’t have to be watching a Bill Paxton/Helen Hunt summer blockbuster to tilt your head curiously at the relative ease of this process. Per the above diagram, the warm air to be taken in to form the tornado could come from warm sea water or the heat from industrial waste. That last part may cast shadows on the whole “standalone power supply” dreams that some may have for it, but I guess it’s better than nothing.
In the Breakout Labs press release, Michaud explains that “The power in a tornado is undisputed. My work has established the principles by which we can control and exploit that power to provide clean energy on an unprecedented scale. With the funding from Breakout Labs, we are building a prototype in partnership with Lambton College to demonstrate the feasibility and the safety of the atmospheric vortex engine.”
I realize my tone hasn’t been very objective here, but the concept of cheap and plentiful energy production is an old one, and without a mountain of proof backing it up, I remain hopeful, but skeptical.