When people think of tornados they think of mayhem and destruction. A man named Louis Michaud would rather create constructive tornados, very big ones. Louis is a Canadian engineer who intends to turn tornadoes into power plants by creating and containing tornados. Imagine descending into an urban environment aboard a commercial aircraft and seeing a 30 foot-wide, miles high spinning vortex of hot air as if it was meant to be there. These man-made turbulences could generate enough electricity to power thousands of homes; just hope your pilot has planned a way around them on his flight plan.
This so-called atmospheric vortex engine will suck in hot air through a series of ducts at the base and channel it into an open roof arena. This would lead to the production of a tornado-like funnel of air that would provide the turbulent push to turn power-generating turbines.
To ramp up the power this system draws in hot water from an excess heat source vented from a nearby nuclear power plant for example and disperses this heat around the perimeter of the vortex engine. To create the wind you will find fans stationed in a mad series of cells spaced around the exterior of the engine which suck in the hot air warmed by the water and blow it through angled channels into the 330-foot-wide central air chamber. The twister is created by the hot air that rushes out along the walls of the chamber and swirls up and out through a 100-foot-wide hole in the top of the machine. The flow pattern that is created coupled with the constant supply of hot air beneath it is supposed to produce a 30-foot-wide tornado that Michaud believes will reach several miles into the sky.
In order to generate electricity from this crazy machine the fans that create the vortex double as the power generators as well. Once the vortex is generated the twister will spin on its own without any additional or constant energy input needed claims Michaud. This self propelled full-grown tornado will suck in air through its base to continue spinning. This influx of air will turn the fans which will convert the mechanical energy into a claimed 100 megawatts of electricity.
As hair-brained as this idea seems to be, the idea has generated some serious interest. The Centre for Energy at the Ontario Centre’s of Excellence recently awarded Michaud with a grant to study the three-foot-tall model he built in his garage. Several notable scientists, such as Kerry Emanuel (renowned hurricane expert of MIT) now sit on the advisory board.
The critics contend that there is some question as to whether the energy the tornado yields would offset the amount required to create it. Others worry that crosswinds could be a constant problem, severing the tornado and sapping its power generating strength or send it spinning out of control. Michaud counters that the start-up energy would be free in the form of heat vented from other power plants even increasing their electrical output by 20%. And as for safety, the tornado can be shut down at any time by closing off the vents, “it’s a tethered tornado” he says. This spring Michaud will get his chance to prove his wild idea in Sarnia, Ontario where he will be demonstrating a 12-foot-wide model.