The Vision Draw power from man-made twisters and light up entire cities
The Plan Your average 100mph tornado can generate up to 10 megawatt-hours of power, about the same as a large utility plant. Now Canadian engineer Louis Michaud says he has figured out a way to trap a twister and make it spin indefinitely, generating a cheap, virtually limitless source of energy. His creation is a 13-foot-wide tornado-making machine that produces a powerful spinning column of air to drive electrical turbines. Last year, Michaud showed off a smaller prototype that produced a 6.5-foot-tall cyclone [see “Twister Power,” Headlines, November 2007], but this new one—due to have been tested in Sarnia, Ontario, in May—should produce the biggest artificial tornado yet
If the testing goes as planned, Michaud hopes to begin constructing a full-scale commercial version that’s nearly twice as wide as a football field and capable of producing a 150-foot-wide, miles-high vortex. Its outer wall will contain 20 fans that suck in air, blow it over hot-water pipes to heat it, and blast it through ducts to an inner chamber. Because the ducts are angled, the hot air will begin to rotate like a tornado. It will require about 2,000 megawatts of electricity to get the machine started, but Michaud’s plan is to recover the waste heat from power plants and use it to heat the water pipes. Once the twister is twisting, it needs no extra energy input to keep it going—the turbines keep working as long as there is low pressure at the bottom of the storm to suck in more air, which in turn feeds the tornado. The air flowing past the turbines will ultimately drive generators and convert the twister’s mechanical energy into 200 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 200,000 homes.
Potential Uh-Ohs What if the engine spins out of control? What if it breaks from its base or grows too large? Michaud says he could simply close the ducts to the inner chamber, blocking the air supply, or reverse the direction of the incoming air.
ETA Expect the commercial machine within five years.
—Rena Marie Pacella
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.