Are bladeless turbines the future of wind energy? |

MNN - Mother Nature Network...turbine consists of a fiberglass carbon fiber cone that vibrates when wind hits it. At the base are rings of repelling magnets that pull in the opposite direction to which the wind is pushing. Electricity is then produced via an alternator that harnesses the kinetic energy of the vibrations.

Lower output, but lower costs

Overall, its makers say the Vortex will produce less energy than a conventional turbine (about 30 percent less to be precise), but because you can fit twice as many in any given area, and because the costs are about half that of a traditional turbine, its hoped that the overall impact will be a net positive in terms of ROI, and that's before you take into account benefits like the lower cost of capital making it more accessible for individual installations, or the fact that bird and bat deaths would no longer need to be taken into account when siting such turbines.

As with any new technology, however, it's important not to get too carried away before full-scale field trials prove that the concept is technically and commercially viable. Already, some experts are questioning the assumptions behind The Vortex. In MIT Technology Review's coverage of the company, several wind energy researchers suggested that large-scale applications may run into challenges.

Questions remain

In the aforementioned article, Sheila Widnall, an aeronautics and astronautics professor at MIT, suggested that there's a fundamental qualitative difference between the vorticity produced at small scale, and at low wind speeds, and how wind would behave at higher speeds and with larger turbines:

"With very thin cylinders and very slow velocities you get singing telephone lines, an absolutely pure frequency or tone. [...] But when the cylinder gets very big and wind gets very high, you get a range of frequencies. You won't be able to get as much energy out of it as you want to because the oscillation is fundamentally turbulent."

She also questioned whether the "silent" operation promised by the company would actually turn out to be a reality. The wind itself, when oscillating, will create significant noise in a wind farm made of Vortex's. It would actually sound like a freight train, she suggested.

One of many potential innovations

The Vortex is just one of many different wind energy concepts that are in active development — and whether or not it comes to fruition remains to be seen. One thing is certain: While current wind turbine technology is already beating many experts expectations in terms of how quickly it would scale up, we can safely assume that there is always room for improvement. The fact that engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs across the world are exploring different ways to harness the wind's energy should be an encouraging sign that renewable energy's already bright future is likely to only get brighter.

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