Tornado Power  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

Tyler Hamilton has a post on the "vortex engine" idea - "A new spin on clean energy: tornado power" at Clean Break which is pretty interesting.

I have a feature in today's Toronto Star about a retired engineer from Sarnia, Ontario, who has spent the past four decades of his life studying the possibility of creating man-made tornadoes from industrial waste heat so that their energy can be harnessed for clean electricity generation. More recently, Louis Michaud has formed a company called AVEtec Energy, filed and obtained patents, and has partnered up with the University of Western Ontario's wind-tunnel lab to study small prototypes and do computer simulations of his "vortex engine" process. He's also managed to raise some early research funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence and now faces his biggest challenge yet: convincing private investors to fund a large-scale working pilot plant.

It may sound like a whacky, out-there idea, but the experts I spoke with for the feature don't doubt the technical possibility of creating a man-made tornado. After all, the principles of convection are pretty straightforward. Heat rises when you've got a certain temperature differential, and as it rises it swirls -- kind of the reverse of what you see when water goes down a drain. AVEtec's pitch might raise eyebrows, but many are taking it seriously. For example, its advisory board consists of climate experts from Oxford, Cambridge and MIT, including MIT professor and well-respected hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel.

Michaud envisions building a large cylindrical building 200 metres in diameter and about 50 meters high, and this structure would have an open top. Heated waste water from a power plant that would normally go to a cooling tower would instead be diverted to the vortex building and into 10 or more strategically located cooling cells, where fans would blow so the air could pick up the heat energy from the water. The hot air from the 10+ intake ducts are then pushed at an angle into the cylindrical building, where you see the beginnings of a whirlwind. As the hot air rises it gathers energy and creates a vortex that reaches higher and higher into the atmosphere. At a certain point the fans pushing the hot air into the vortex are turned off. The vortex, now hungry for more heated air, begins to suck in the air on its own. Suddenly, what were fans now become turbines that spin as the air is drawn in. The turbines are connected to generators that produce clean electricity as long as a constant source of waste heat is provided to feed the vortex, which at this point is a full-fledged tornado stretching into the troposphere.

Michaud calculates it would cost $60 million to build such a plant. But because it would be replacing the function of a cooling tower, that figure would be offset by up to $20 million. The end result, assuming it works and is safe, would be a 200 megawatt power station producing clean energy at less than half the cost of a coal plant. ...

Speaking of outside the box, Michaud says his vortex engines could help us directly manage climate change. He says there's no reason hundreds of his vortex engines couldn't be stationed in the ocean along the equator, where ocean water is warm enough to provide energy for creating a tornado. Why do this? Well, the greenhouse effect prevents heat that hits the earth's surface from radiating back into space, so Michaud argues that his vortex network would act like air conditioners that suck the hot air high into the atmosphere where the heat can more easily escape. All I can say is.... Wow!

This concept is similar in many ways to the solar tower idea being pursued in Australia. The idea there is that solar energy is collected passively on the ground in a kind of large sprawling greenhouse structure. The air within this greenhouse heats up and flows toward a large chimney in the centre. The air gathers speed as it rises through the chimney and a large turbine inside spins to generate electricity. The problem with this is that to get, say, the 200 megawatts that Michaud wants to produce from his vortex engine, you'd have to build a huge chimney that stretches a kilometre into the sky. The greenhouse on the surface would also need to be large. Both taking up a lot of space and very costly -- the economics don't work well. Michaud believes his vortex engine overcomes this problem because the vortex forms its own chimney of air, meaning one doesn't have to be constructed. Also, by creating a tornado you generate much more power that can be converted into electricity.

Tyler also has a "algae to biofuel" article out at The Toronto Star - "Putting the bite on C02". from a global warming point of view it is worth noting these emissions capture schemes are great but they don't sequester the carbon in any permanent way - they just let you get another round of energy generation from the carbon you burnt the first time.
Capturing carbon dioxide can be done in several ways, but the most unusual approach by far is to literally feed the greenhouse gas to CO2-hungry algae.

Several companies have attempted over the years to develop algae bioreactor systems that can be attached to coal- or natural gas-fired power plants or big industrial facilities. The idea is that CO2 emissions from these operations can be directed to an algae "farm," where the tiny organisms feast on the gas until they're fat enough to harvest.

The mature, oil-rich algae can then be processed into a number of products, such as biodiesel, ethanol, animal feed and a variety of plastics. So you end up with a double benefit: keeping CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and producing renewable products that can reduce the need for fossil fuels.

But like most dream technologies, CO2-to-algae-to-oil systems would be great if designing them didn't present so many challenges.

Last month, Cambridge, Mass.-based GreenFuel Technologies, a leading developer of algae-to-biofuel systems, found that a pilot system it had built in Arizona was growing algae so aggressively that it couldn't harvest them fast enough. As a result, the algae began to die.

The company also found out that the cost of its next-generation system was twice as much as it originally calculated, so it was forced to shut down the Arizona pilot and lay off nearly half of its staff.

This doesn't bode well for business. Power utilities, normally a conservative bunch, tend to shy away from any technology that isn't rock solid and risk free. They want to see more trial and less error.

As for a developing such systems for the Canadian market, experts say the cooler weather in Canada would make it difficult to keep the algae farms alive and productive year-round.

But never say never. The federal government announced in March that it was contributing $100,000 toward the first phase of a project to design microalgae systems with the potential to "capture up to 100 million tonnes of CO2 from industrial sources," the government said.

Not a huge contribution, but at least it kick-starts some serious research.

It's the first project under the newly created I-CAN Centre for the Conversion of Carbon Dioxide, which will be co-led by government research centres in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.

And earlier this month, a consortium of academics, scientists and businesses threw their hat into the algae pond, describing their collective goal of building a commercial "photo bioreactor" within three years and designing it for the needs of the Canadian market.

One company in that consortium is Ottawa-based Menova Energy Inc., which in other circles is known as a provider of solar hybrid systems that can provide both heat and electricity to schools, industrial facilities and other large buildings.

Another is Trident Exploration Corp., a natural gas exploration company looking at ways to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Menova president Dave Gerwing says Trident knew it was only a matter of time before the federal government began imposing penalties on CO2 emissions. Trident approached a number of companies looking for solutions, including GreenFuel Technologies, but it ended up teaming up with Menova last year.

So what does a solar company have to do with carbon sequestration in algae?

Gerwing, a determined engineer, says it's a combination of innovation and better economics. What Menova brings to the table that other companies don't is a combination of heat and light – both of which are crucial ingredients to algae cultivation.

Menova's Power-Spar system uses solar concentrators to focus the sun on photovoltaic solar cells, which produce electricity, and fluid-filled channels that capture the sun's heat. But the system goes one step further, capturing the sunlight and redirecting it where necessary through fibre-optic cables.

What this means is that an algae farm – or what Menova calls its "photo bioreactor" – can be designed in a way where heat and light are concentrated in a relatively more confined area, allowing for the high-density growth of algae without the need for acres and acres of land. ...

Renewable Energy Access reports that the wind power boom is driving up prices as manufacturers struggle to keep up with demand.
The wind industry is undergoing temporary growing pains similar to the silicon shortage experienced by the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry: there are simply not enough materials or manufacturing capacity to keep up with the increasing demand for wind turbines. The need for steel, copper, concrete and other materials has driven up project costs, restricted turbine supplies and created a difficult market for smaller wind developers.

But despite a two-and-a-half year stretch of materials shortages and rising costs, the global wind industry is experiencing steady growth worldwide and increased acceptance by utilities, governments and citizens.

"Between 2004 and 2005, the global wind turbine market experienced a rapid period of escalation...Within the span of just that year the global demand for wind turbine components and supply jumped to a new plateau and a new rate of growth," says Joshua Magee, senior analyst for Emerging Energy Research's (EER) North American Wind Advisory Group.

Much of that new demand was caused by the two-year extension of the production tax credit (PTC) in the U.S., which provided certainty for wind developers and encouraged a slew of new projects. In addition, China and India emerged as major players in the wind market, further straining supply of materials.

As the global market expanded rapidly starting at the end of 2004, the manufacturing capacity was not in place to handle demand. Since 2005, manufacturers have been playing catch-up and pumping out turbines as quickly as developers can put them into the ground. However, because it takes about 20 months to ramp up manufacturing capabilities, the cost increase and turbine shortage is not expected to level out until sometime in 2009, says Magee.

"Given that the global wind turbine industry is an inherently capital intensive industry, manufacturers have spent the last two years making the necessary investments to begin to regain parity with this new level of global demand," Magee says.

The point of parity couldn't come soon enough for some developers. Over the last two years, project costs have risen 50% in some cases, according to American Wind Energy Association Executive Director Randall Swisher. But the industry shouldn't be worried, says Swisher. The long-term economics of wind energy are still very attractive to utilities and their customers. While the price of fossil energies continues to rise, the cost of wind will always stay the same—free.

Links:

* FT - Uranium makes its first fall in price for more than four years. Japanese earthquake damages more than just nuclear power plants.

* Houston Chronicle - Filings against energy companies may point to a big shift. Regulators calling for large fines to be levied on Amaranth and Energy Transfer Partners for manipulating the US natural gas market.

* UPI - Analysis: Oil part of large Iraq conundrum. Still haven't handed over the oil. These mainstream press articles that are ignorant of both the history of Iraqi oil and the actual politics that are going on are demoralising from a "why can't we face reality and work out a better path forward" point of view.

* CounterPunch - Did Guerrillas Strike at the Heart of Mexico's Oil Industry? Bombing Pemex--Or Not?. Bart at EB comments "Background on the Mexican pipeline explosion from the left-wing CounterPunch. Looks as if there is more to the story than first meets the eye.".

* Janes - State Railway of Thailand to undertake ambitious development project. A pointer to the future - "the high increase in oil prices has caused everyone to think about how to shift the mode of transport to rail from road".

* Inside Greentech - Solel's new 553 MW solar thermal plant

* Grist - PG&E to buy 550 MW of concentrated solar from world's largest CS plant

* SMH - Blacktown goes green to beat the heat

* After Gutenberg - Fewer Mega-Joules to go the Same Distance and Suzuki Swift: Tiny, cheap and super fuel-efficient

* The Times - Jatropha: Poison plant could help to cure the planet. Interesting snippet - WA has banned the growing of jatropha.

* DeSmogBlog - Sorry Newsbusters, who's alarmist?. Orson Scott Card's science fiction is getting published in some odd places and the quality continues to deteriorate.

* Daily Mail - Sex for the motherland: Russian youths encouraged to procreate at camp. From a guy who is literally writing a book on "The New Cold War". The first bit of the article reminds me a lot of "Jesus Camp" - Russian fascists look a lot like American fascists to me, though the Russian opposition is a lot weaker than its US counterparts. The British really seem to be annoyed about Putin nationalising various BP and Shell energy projects.

* Greenpeace - Aviation industry takes five million people to court

* Pop!Tech - Stewart Brand

* Pop!Tech - Kevin Kelly

* The Onion - Study: Iraqis May Experience Sadness When Friends, Relatives Die

* The Oregonian - DeFazio chases secret terror-crisis plan

* Cryptogon - The Failed State and You: Iraq Offers a Preview of What’s Coming. This is one of Kevin's better diatribes - while I disagree with the whole "inevitable collapse" mindset, the point that some pro-collapsists are living in a fools paradise seems pretty sound.

5 comments

Anonymous   says 10:34 AM

Gav - was that article on "The Onion - Study: Iraqis May Experience Sadness When Friends, Relatives Die
" a sick joke or something?

I could not work out if it was highlighting the inhumanity and ignorance of Americans or it was a serious study and people could be this inhumane.

Please help me here.

Hi Steve.

Everything The Onion does is satire - in this case, a commentary on how the American media treats Iraqi casualties.

That said, I'm sure you could find a few neocons around who are this inhumane.

The Cryptogon link is broken BTW.

And yes, it has been more difficult since 2000 to separate 'The Onion' from reality, especially since stories often emerge years later that are practically plagiarized.

Anonymous   says 12:24 PM

Personally I love solar power I think over the next few years it's going to be exploding even more... as performance of solar panels goes up people are going to be adopting it everywhere they can... after all it's free energy :) BTW here is more solar power information -> Solar Power

…..depends on the geometry of the solid, for example for a homogeneous cylinder of ray R and mass M . Thus if you can estimate the size of a tornado (horizontal and vertical) and the speed of the winds, if one supposes homogeneous rotation (what is undoubtedly not the case), one can deduce the mass from it from air implied in the tornado like his number of angular revolutions and deduce an order of magnitude from it from the kinetic energy associated the tornado…..

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