Louis Michaud believes that the world could be powered by manmade tornadoes, and as mad as his idea seems, he has secured backing from Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs.
Michaud, a 72 year old former ExxonMobil engineer, has spent his retirement creating artificial vortexes in the belief that they will one day help to power the world. His prototype vortex machines are not big enough to produce any significant amount of power, but by scaling the project up he estimates that his technology could produce 3,000 times the amount of energy currently generated in the entire world.
PopSci writes that he arrived at this figure by calculating the“total energy potential of convection from the bottom of the atmosphere upward is 52,000 terawatts. He believes it’s possible to collect 12 percent of that potential using his technology, which amounts to 6,000 TW–3,000 times the 2 terawatts of electrical power we make world-wide without his method.”
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Tornadoes are formed when the air close to the Earth is at least 20 degrees hotter than the air above. The warm air rises, and begins to spin, eventually creating a vortex. Michaud’s prototype Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) create the same effect by introducing warm air through several entryways at the bottom of a cylinder. The hot air begins to spin vigorously as it rises, forming a vortex. As the vortex grows it sucks more warm air from the bottom, gaining speed and power. At the top of the cylinder the spinning vortex turns the blades of a turbine to create electricity.
To date Michaud’s vortex have all been under 20 metres tall, and too weak to generate any significant amounts of energy, but he predicts as the vortex grows that amount of energy produced will increase exponentially.
By feeding the excess heat produced at power plants into one of his AVEs, he says that it would “increase output [of the power plant] by 10 to 20 percent, without using any additional fuel,” and produce tornadoes that could be 15 kilometres high (natural ones are around 9km high).
“The chance of the vortex going outside the station is minimal,” he assures. Shutting off the supply of warm air to the bottom would kill the vortex.