For years, the symbol of wind power technology has been the wind turbine. While traditional turbines got us moving in the right direction, they are far from perfect. These bladeless wind turbines are changing how we think about collecting wind energy.
Power From Bladeless Wind Turbines
In 2015, Spanish company Vortex Bladeless came out with their new concept for capturing energy from the wind: Bladeless Wind Turbines. These turbines collect wind energy by the oscillating (wiggling) motion that they do when hit by a breeze. (1)
They look like a giant pole that sticks straight up out of the ground, and when the wind comes, sure enough, they wiggle. (1)
Vortex founders David Suriol, David Yáñez, and Raul Martín got the idea after learning about the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington in the 1940s. Hit by an incredible wind storm, the bridge began oscillating so violently that it completely collapsed. (1)
The three gentlemen thought perhaps there is a way to harness that kinetic energy and convert it to electricity. An enemy of architects and designers, they decided to make it their friend. (1)
“We said, ‘Why don’t we try to use this energy, not avoid it,’” Suriol says. (1)
How Bladeless Wind Turbines Work
The bladeless wind turbines harness something called vorticity. This is an aerodynamic effect that produces spinning whirlpools of wind. Where vorticity can destroy even the strongest of objects, the Vortex is designed to use these vortices in a synchronized fashion along the entirety of the mast. (1)
The shape is an elongated cone made of fiberglass and carbon fiber. These materials allow for maximum vibration of the cone. (1, 3)
Two rings of repelling magnets sit at the bottom of the cone as a non-electrical motor. When the cone sways in one direction, the magnets pull the cone back in the opposite direction. This is what creates the oscillating or wiggling motion, even if the wind’s speed is not high. (1, 3)
An alternator then converts that energy into electricity by multiplying the frequency of the mast’s oscillations to improve the Vortex’s efficiency. (1, 3)
What Makes Bladeless Wind Turbines Better?
While the classic turbines allowed us to start harnessing the power of the wind, there are many problems with them. They are costly, difficult to repair, and noisy. They require a vast amount of space and need to be more efficient. (1, 2)
The bladeless wind turbines boast many improvements on the traditional machines. These include:
- Cheaper to manufacture and maintain because there are no gears, bolts, or mechanically moving parts. (1)
- More turbines can be fit into a smaller area. (1, 5)
- They are silent. (1)
- Safer for birds because there are no moving blades to fly into. (1)
- Costs more than 50% less to manufacture than traditional wind turbines. (1)
- Oil-less and low maintenance. (4)
- Will last 15 to 20 years or longer according to tests. (4)
The company’s founders are optimistic about the potential of their technology.
“Our goal is to develop a new wind generator that minimize(s) the amount of mechanical elements to reduce the maintenance costs and… environmental impact,” says Yáñez. (2)
Not everyone has much faith in the bladeless turbines as the founders of Vortex Bladeless do. Wind energy specialist at the Technical University of Denmark Martin Hansen questions the efficiency of the turbines in comparison to their traditional counterparts. (5)
A conventional wind turbine converts 80 to 90 percent of the kinetic energy collected by their spinning rotors into electricity. According to Yáñez, the bladeless wind turbines will have an efficiency of just 70%. That being said, the number of turbines you can fit into an area is greater and the manufacturing costs are lower. According to Vortex founders, that outweighs those losses. (5)
Aeronautics and astronautics professor at MIT Sheila Widnall questions the turbulence of the wind patterns that will make it difficult to capture the kinetic energy from it. (5)
“With very thin cylinders and very slow velocities you get singing telephone lines, an absolutely pure frequency or tone,” she says. “But when the cylinder gets very big and wind gets very high, you get a range of frequencies. You won’t be able to get as much energy out of it as you want to because the oscillation is fundamentally turbulent.” (5)
She also disagrees that the bladeless turbines will be silent, stating that the cylinders will make noise when they start shaking back and forth. (5)
Other Companies Looking at New Turbine Technology
They have taken their design inspiration from sailboats, replacing the traditional blade and hub with a non-rotational sail-shaped body. Their Zero Blade Technology follows a back and forth 3D knot motion similar to that of a sailboat. (7)
According to Saphon, their technology is 2.3 times more efficient than traditional rotating blades and costs 45% less to build and maintain. Another benefit to their design is their capacity to actually store the energy that the “sail” collects. (6)
“We’ve developed several prototypes. We are at our second-generation prototype. We did the testing and this second one is twice as efficient as a three-blade turbine and in terms of manufacturing is at least 50 percent cheaper.” (6)
Saphon hopes to have their design on the market within 18 to 24 months, as soon as they find manufacturing partners. (6)
The Bottom Line
While there are certainly more aspects of this technology to be worked out by Vortex, Saphon, and any other companies working in wind technology innovation, the future of wind technology is most definitely an exciting one. It will be interesting to follow along with their developments with hopes of a greener future.
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