Powering cities with man-made tornadoes

The Thiel Foundation announced three new grants, including one to startup company that proposed harnessing the power of atmospheric vortexes.

Imagine an energy source that produces zero emissions, can be turned on and off at will, doesn't require storage and costs as little as three cents per kilowatt hour.

Canadian engineer Louis Michaud believes man-made tornadoes could do just that. Now, he's building a prototype in partnership with Lambton College thanks largely to a $300,000 grant from Breakout Labs.

Breakout Labs, a fund established by the Thiel Foundation that promotes cutting-edge science and technology ideas, announced earlier this month that it awarded a grant to Michaud's startup AVEtec, reported Toronto Star reporter Tyler Hamilton.

The Thiel Foundation, started by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, also awarded grant money to General Genomics and Siva Therapeutics.

The science behind AVEtec

Michaud's technology is called the Atmospheric Vortex Engine, which harnesses the physics of tornadoes to produce extremely cheap and clean energy, said Breakout Labs.

As AVEtec describes it:

The Atmospheric Vortex Engines uses low-temperature waste heat to create a tornado-like atmospheric vortex. In contrast with a real tornado, the vortex can't go anywhere because it is anchored to its heat source. So it's really more like a dust devil or waterspout, and it serves as a low-cost virtual chimney.

The prototype aims to demonstrate the feasibility and the safety of the atmospheric vortex engine, Michaud said in a statement. (A smaller prototype is pictured to the right.)

"The real prize will be using large-scale AVE to drive turbines, Michaud said in a release. "Using the low temperature waste heat from a 500 megawatt thermal power plant could generate an additional 200 MW of power, increasing capacity by 40 percent and producing perfectly green electricity at less than three cents per kilowatt hour."

Michaud tested his idea through a computer modeling study and via a four-meter diameter outdoor prototype built in 2009.

The next prototype will be eight meters in diameter and will produce a 40-meter tall vortex with a diameter of 30 centimeters. It will power a one-meter diameter turbine for testing purposes. Michaud said commercialization will become economically viable when the company builds a 40-meter diameter prototype in 2015.

Photo: AVEtec

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com