The bladeless turbines are the work of Madrid-based startup Vortex Bladeless. Thanks to its innovative design, the company recently won the approval of Norway's state energy company, Equinor, which also placed the company on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector.
Vortex's design consists of a 3-meter (10 feet) tall curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. When hit by the wind, the cylinder waggles back and forth like a bobblehead toy. This design allows the turbine to oscillate within the wind range and produce electricity from the vibration. The cylinders' small size and lack of turbine blades could likely allow for the construction of wind farms in places where traditional bladed turbines would be impractical.
"Our technology has different characteristics which can help to fill the gaps where traditional windfarms might not be appropriate," says David Yañez, the founder of Vortex Bladeless. The gaps that Yañez refers to include urban and residential areas where the impact of a traditional windfarm would be too great and the space to build too small.
In addition, the small size of Vortex's bladeless turbine fits the current trend for installing small-scale, on-site energy generation – usually solar panels – that have helped many homes and companies save on their energy bills. Yañez even calls the turbine wind power's answer to the home solar panel.
"They complement each other well, because solar panels produce electricity during the day while wind speeds tend to be higher at night," he said. "But the main benefit of the technology is in reducing its environmental impact, its visual impact, and the cost of operating and maintaining the turbine."
Other advantages of Vortex's turbine include its relative quietness – making noise at a frequency virtually undetectable to humans – and the fact that doesn't pose any danger to migratory birds and other wildlife.
While Vortex's current design is relatively small, the company is looking to scale it up to a more industrial size.
"Today, the turbine is small and would generate small amounts of electricity," says Yañez. "But we are looking for an industrial partner to scale up our plans to a 140 meter turbine with a power capacity of one megawatt."
Vortex Bladeless is far from the only startup looking for ways to reinvent wind power. British startup Alpha 311, which started in a garden shed in Whitstable, Kent, has begun producing a small vertical turbine that it claims can generate electricity even without wind. (Related: EarthTronics Wind Turbine Generates Electricity Even in Low Wind Speeds.)
Instead of relying solely on wind, Alpha 311's turbine generates electricity from the motion of the air displaced by passing cars. With this in mind, the 2-meter (6.5-foot) tall turbine is designed to fit onto existing streetlights.
Based on independent research commissioned by the company, each turbine installed along a motorway could generate as much electricity as 20 square meters of solar panels. This is enough energy to not just power a street light but also help power the local grid.
"While our turbines can be placed anywhere, the optimal location is next to a highway, where they can be fitted on to existing infrastructure. There’s no need to dig anything up, as they can attach to the lighting columns that are already there and use the existing cabling to feed directly into the grid," said Alpha 311 spokesperson Mike Shaw. "The footprint is small, and motorways aren’t exactly beauty spots."
Meanwhile, German startup SkySails is developing large, fully automated kites designed to fly at altitudes of 400 meters to capture power from high-altitude winds. The kites generate electricity by pulling a rope tethered to a winch and generator on the ground.
Once the kite is completely unspooled, pulling it back down uses only a fraction of the electricity that it generated.
"[The kite's] impact on people and the environment is minimal," explains SkySails CEO Stephan Wrage. "The systems work very quietly, practically have no visible effect on the landscape and barely cast a shadow."
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