Scientists are looking to reduce the cost of wind energy by removing the blades from wind turbines. Without the blades, energy produced will cost 40% less than energy made from wind turbines that are operating today. The remaining pole will be designed to vibrate and this kinetic energy will be converted into electricity by an alternator.
Generating energy from oscillating poles
Vortex Bladeless, a startup from Spain, is in the process of developing these oscillating tall poles which takes advantage of the power contained in swirling vortices of air.
In its current prototype, the elongated cone is made from a composite of fibreglass and carbon fibre, which allows the mast to vibrate as much as possible (an increase in mass reduces natural frequency). At the base of the cone are two rings of repelling magnets, which act as a sort of non-electrical motor. When the cone oscillates one way, the repelling magnets pull it in the other direction which helps to boost the mast’s movement regardless of wind speed.
Benefits of bladeless turbines
According to Vortex, the bladeless wind generators won’t cost as much to manufacture since there will no longer be a need for the large costly blades. The simpler design also means that manufacturing costs are about half that of a traditional wind turbine. Maintenance costs will also be reduced since there are no moving parts or gears. It should therefore last longer and it won't require periodic lubrication. The bladeless turbine will also be much quieter than its bladed counterparts due to a reduced wind disturbance so no one can claim instances of wind turbine syndrome, where the sub-sonic noise generated by traditional wind turbines is blamed for everything from headaches and dizziness to sleepiness and even depression. The new design will also make it possible to increase the number of bladeless wind generators in the same space which will be key since it generates about 30% less energy than those with blades.
Vortex Bladeless have already raised over $1 million in funding, and hope to accumulate more from investors in the US.
Vortex is working on a few different sizes; its "Mini," a 12.5m (41-foot) model, should be ready for commercialization next year, while a larger, industrial model is in the works for 2018.
Bladeless turbines are not new
There have been other bladeless designs in the past. In fact, the earliest design was in 1913 by Inventor Nikola Tesla who patented a bladeless steam turbine that he claimed was the most efficient and simple rotary engine ever designed. But, due to a lack of high quality materials, Tesla was never able to properly build his engine. One century later, we now have all the materials needed to build Tesla’s turbine, and in 2010, a patent was issued to a company called Solar Aero for a wind turbine based on the Tesla design. Their Aeroturbines are available to the public.
With a design inspired by a ship’s sails, Saphon Energy has created the Saphonian – a bladeless wind turbine at double the efficiency, and half the cost, of a regular wind turbine apparently.With the patented “Zero-Blade Technology”, used by the Saphonian turbine, the wind drives pistons which are then converted into mechanical energy. Hydraulic pressure is then produced and converted into electricity using a hydraulic motor and generator. The test results can be viewed on the firm’s website.
Mecanoo, a team of Dutch architects, have developed a wind energy generator with no moving parts called the EWICON (Electrostatic Wind Energy Converter). The EWICON undergoes little wear and tear and requires almost no maintenance. It makes no noise and casts no moving shadows.
The Fuller Wind Turbine, developed in New Hampshire, USA by Solar Aero, has only one rotating part – the turbine-drive shaft. In 2010, Solar Aero received a patent for this turbine, which is based on the Tesla design. Like other bladeless turbines, the entire assembly is contained.
Military veteran Raymond Green created the Catching Wind Power prototype at an estimated cost of US$550. Green’s patented “Inner Compression Cone Technology” draws in wind through its wide entrance, forcing it into the smaller space where the turbine blades are located. Green claims that his ‘Catching Wind Power’ turbine can generate double the energy output of a typical turbine, even when placed closer to the ground than normal.
SheerWind claims their Invelox system is up to 600% more efficient than traditional wind turbines. The Invelox can generate power from gentle winds moving as slow as 1.5-3 km/h. It works by capturing passing wind in large scoops and funneling it down through an increasingly narrow space, where its velocity is multiplied. The compressed air is then used to power a small turbine generator.
While some of these inventions require some work to be done before the technology can be scaled up to a useful size and widely reproduced, it is clear that the development of wind energy technology is far from being complete. It will be interesting to see what the years ahead hold since the technological solutions can only be improved upon.