How does a blade-less wind turbine work
Are blade-less turbines the future of wind energy?
Whenever I wrote about larger, berry wind turbines that could cause trouble for coal, one commentator admonished me not to think about the birds: "Shovel
As I wrote about bigger, better wind turbines that could be trouble for coal, one commenter cautioned me not to think about the birds:
"Bucket turbines kill kill birds, eagles and other birds of prey, as well as small birds. They are the worst thing this country could do ... ESPECIALLY when two types of bucketless turbines are available. The vibration tower and the other from the Dutchman."
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Bird deaths exaggerated
While there have been concerns that wind turbines could kill birds and bats, a better location away from migration routes and habitat for prime birds of prey, combined with improved designs that do not provide roosting areas for birds of prey, means that many experts no longer address the problem as such see an either-or dichotomy between fighting climate change and protecting birds. In fact, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the UK's leading bird protection organization, was so confident that wind power and birds could coexist that they have built a 100 meter high wind turbine at their headquarters and partnered with clean energy companies selling renewable energy to his customers.
Even so, it would be silly to assume that the current three-blade turbine design is the pinnacle in terms of wind energy. And the commenter mentioned above rightly suggests that researchers and entrepreneurs around the world are working on leafless and otherwise bird-safe turbine designs. It's quite a stretch to point out that these turbines are currently prime-time ready, eliminating the need for traditional turbines. Proponents suggest, however, that these alternatives could offer significant improvements over their current spinning wheel counterparts.
Spanish company Vortex Bladeless is one of the companies that made headlines with its leafless, gearless and bearingless vertical wind turbine. The founders claim that in addition to protecting birds and bats, they will also significantly reduce the manufacturing and maintenance costs associated with conventional wind power (by 53 percent and 51 percent, respectively).
According to MIT Technology Review, the company has already raised more than $ 1 million in investor capital and recently ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to create a commercial pilot for its first product: a small, vane-less turbine for use in developing countries.
A new form of wind power
The company has aroused great interest in its concepts, also thanks to coverage in publications such as Wired. The excitement stems from the fact that Vortex Bladeless is designed to use wind energy very differently than traditional turbines. Instead of using blades to capture the wind's energy through a rotating motion, the vortex uses what is known as vorticity, an aerodynamic effect that occurs when a liquid hits a solid structure, creating a pattern of spinning eddies. (The famous collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was an example of Vorticity and was actually the inspiration for The Vortex.)
In prototype form, the turbine consists of a fiberglass-carbon fiber cone that vibrates when wind hits it. At the base there are rings with repulsive magnets that pull in the opposite direction that the wind is pushing. The electricity is then generated by an alternator that uses the kinetic energy of the vibrations.
Lower performance, but lower costs
Overall, manufacturers say the Vortex will produce less energy than a traditional turbine (about 30 percent less to be precise), but because you can use twice as much in a given area and because the cost is about half what it was with Hopefully the overall ROI impact will be positive, before considering benefits such as lower capital costs that make it easier to access for individual installations, or the fact that it can kill birds and Bats would no longer have to be taken into account when setting up such turbines.
As with any new technology, however, it is important not to get too carried away before extensive field tests prove that the concept is technically and economically viable. Some experts are already questioning the assumptions behind The Vortex. In MIT Technology Review's coverage of the company, several wind energy researchers suggested that large-scale applications could face challenges.
In the above article, Sheila Widnall, professor of aerospace engineering at MIT, suggested that there is a fundamental qualitative difference between the turbulence created on a small scale and at low wind speeds and the behavior of the wind at higher speeds and larger turbines:
“With very thin cylinders and very slow speeds, you get singing phone lines, an absolutely pure frequency, or an absolutely pure tone. [...] But when the cylinder gets very big and the wind gets very strong, you get a frequency range. You won't be able to get as much energy out of it as you want because the vibration is inherently turbulent. "
She also asked whether the "silent" operation the company had promised would actually turn out to be a reality. The wind itself generates considerable noise when swinging in a vortex wind farm. It would actually sound like a freight train, she suggested.
One of many possible innovations
The vortex is just one of many different wind energy concepts that are in active development - and whether or not it is about implementation remains to be seen. One thing is certain: while current wind turbine technology is already exceeding many experts' expectations for the speed at which it is scaling, we can assume that there is always room for improvement. The fact that engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs around the world are looking for different ways to harness wind power should be an encouraging sign that the already bright future of renewable energy is only likely to get better.
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