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Could a captive tornado power an entire city?

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The Thiel Foundation's Breakout Labs recently announced its plans to fund a radical new approach to producing cheap and clean energy. Called the Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE), the highly conceptual power plant would generate a controlled tornado that drives multiple turbines. With controlled being the key word, here.

The idea was devised by Canadian engineer Louis Michaud from Western University.


In his design, warm and humid air get pulled into a circular station, where it assumes the form of a rising and powerful vortex. The temperature difference between this heated air and the atmosphere above it supports and drives the turbines. It essentially works by "spinning" low-grade waste heat into a vortex which extends up into the atmosphere.

The controlled tornado can be shut down at any time by turning off the source of warm air.


Among its advantages, AVE power generation wouldn't produce carbon emissions, nor would it require energy storage. Michaud estimates that the cost of the energy produced by AVE could be as low as 3 cents per kilowatt hour, which would make it one of the least expensive forms of energy production.


As for the plant itself, it would have a diameter of 100 meters and generate 200 megawatts of electrical power — the same amount of energy produced by a conventional coal power station.

"The power in a tornado is undisputed," said Louis Michaud through the Breakout Labs release. "My work has established the principles by which we can control and exploit that power to provide clean energy on an unprecedented scale. With the funding from Breakout Labs, we are building a prototype in partnership with Lambton College to demonstrate the feasibility and the safety of the atmospheric vortex engine."


You can learn more about the vortex engine at Michaud's FAQ.

Sources: Breakout Labs, Vortex Engine.

Top Image: Daniel Eaton/