Spanish wind energy technology that resembles a miniature turbine tower, minus the blades, and which generates energy by “wobbling” in the wind, instead of spinning, is preparing to undergo beta testing in Europe.
The oscillating wind towers were developed by Madrid-based company Vortex Bladeless as part of an EU-funded project to devise low-cost, low-maintenance and low-noise alternatives to wind turbines.
The technology works by wobbling as the air passes around it and vortices build up behind it – a process known as vortex shedding, the company explains.
As the vortices build up, a lightweight fibreglass and carbon-fibre cylinder attached vertically to an elastic rod oscillates on its base, where an alternator converts the movement into electricity. In varying wind speeds, magnets are used to dynamically optimise the rate of movement for more efficient generation.
The company says the simple design of the wind energy generators, with few moving parts, means they require minimal maintenance, generate little or no noise and, with a small footprint, are relatively easy to install.
This means less visual impact – and so less NIMBYism – and reduced impact on wildlife and surrounding environment than conventional bladed turbines.
Furthermore, the company claims that tests have found that the Vortex columns can generate electricity roughly 30% cheaper than conventional wind turbines on a levelised cost of energy basis – thanks largely to the low cost of manufacture and installation and minimal maintenance requirements.
And while wobbling columns can’t compete with traditional wind turbines in terms of scale and output, SME Vortex Bladeless is not competing in that market. Rather, the company will target the local distributed energy market, where power can be harnessed close to the point of consumption and work in conjunction with other small-scale generation technologies.
“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,” said 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,” he said.
“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,” Yáñez says.
“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.
“To summarise, we took on the challenge of developing the simplest device imaginable capable of collecting energy from the wind.”
From here, the Vortex Bladeless is finishing up 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.
The company also claims the technology has attracted 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.
In an interview with The Guardian this week, Yáñez said the company was hoping in the future to go as big as a 140 metre turbine with a power capacity of 1 megawatt.
“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 said.
“It’s 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.”