Wobbling in the wind: a bladeless alternative to turbines
A Spanish start-up will soon start beta testing an innovative renewable energy solution, building on the results of an EU-funded project that helped develop a low-cost, low-maintenance and low-noise alternative to wind turbines.
© Vortex Bladeless S.L., 2020
Conventional wind turbines have shown that wind is an excellent source of renewable energy. However, some of its characteristics mean traditional turbines are not suitable for every application and venue.
The EU-funded VORTEX project addressed this challenge, coming up with an innovative new concept for turbines without blades. Madrid-based SME Vortex Bladeless, which led the project, is now targeting the local distributed energy market, enabling renewable power to be harnessed close to the point of consumption using its compact bladeless wind-powered generators alongside solar panels and other clean energy solutions.
Lacking the spinning blades of conventional wind turbines, Vortexs designs resemble slender wobbling or oscillating cylinders. The devices have few moving parts, require minimal maintenance, generate little or no noise and, with a small footprint, are relatively easy to install. They should also have less visual impact and effects on wildlife than conventional bladed turbines.
We hope to offer people the possibility of harvesting the wind that passes over their roofs or through gardens and parks with devices that are cheaper to install and easier to maintain than conventional wind turbines, says Vortex Bladeless co-founder and project coordinator David Yáñez. Although in theory conventional wind turbines have superior aerodynamic performance, bladeless turbines are able to adapt more quickly to changes in wind direction. This is an especially interesting feature in urban environments with turbulent wind conditions.
30 % cheaper electricity
Instead of using the wind to rotate a blade, the Vortex device oscillates as the air passes around it and vortices build up behind a process known as vortex shedding. The phenomenon has always been a major challenge for architects and engineers who have to try to mitigate the effect on buildings and other structures.
Conversely, the Vortex technology takes advantage of this phenomenon. As the wind blows and vortices build up, a lightweight fibreglass and carbon-fibre cylinder affixed vertically to an elastic rod oscillates on its base, where an alternator converts the mechanical movement into electricity. Because different wind speeds vary the frequency of oscillation, magnets are used to dynamically optimise the rate of movement for more efficient electricity generation.
Tests suggest that Vortex devices can generate electricity about 30 % cheaper than conventional wind turbines on a levelised cost of energy basis. This is helped by the low cost of installation and minimal maintenance requirements as well as potentially lower material and manufacturing costs once economies of scale are achieved.
Our machine has no gears, brakes, bearings or shafts. It does not need lubrication and has no parts that can be worn down by friction. Thanks to being very lightweight and having the centre of gravity closer to the ground, anchoring or foundation requirements have been reduced significantly compared to regular turbines, easing installation, Yáñez says. To summarise, we took on the challenge of developing the simplest device imaginable capable of collecting energy from the wind.
Testing in the air
A significant amount of the development, optimisation and testing needed to achieve that goal was carried out in the VORTEX project.
The day the European Commission granted us the funding we were about to negotiate the sale of our technology to Asian investors at a very low price. Thanks to EU help and support, we were finally able to develop the technology in Spain and we hope that we can soon return that effort for the benefit of all European citizens, he says.
Today, Vortex Bladeless is concluding a minimum viable product test of its first 100 pre-commercial devices and plans to begin beta testing its smallest device, the 85cm-tall Vortex Nano this year, targeting distributed low-power applications in combination with solar energy sources. The firm has also garnered interest from two of the largest wind energy companies in the world, one of which has proposed launching a joint project to explore the commercial feasibility of scaling up the devices.
From an environmental perspective, the superiority of renewable energy over non-renewable sources is unquestionable, but the next challenge is generating this energy near the point of consumption, from your own home, for example, Yáñez says. Its clearly essential that we have as many tools as possible to deal with climate change. Each of them will have unique characteristics that make them suitable for specific circumstances.