Tornadoes are a force to be reckoned with, as evidenced by leveled Midwestern towns like Greensburg, Kansas. But the sheer power they wield, it turns out, can also be harnessed for good, potentially powering instead of knocking down houses. While the power-yielding tornadoes would be manmade, the concept remains- harvesting a natural phenomenon’s power as a viable energy source (think SUPER windpower). According to Louis Michaud of AVEtec Energy Corp, it is possible, and promising, to engineer and control full scale tornadoes and harness their energy in a relatively emission free manner.
Instead of relying on intermittent and unreliable wind to power windmills, Michaud dreams of a time when a giant tornado will power the turbines at its base. The process as to how to create a tornado, albeit a small scale one, is fairly simple and is a matter of physics. What is considerably more difficult is to create one at the scale required to power the turbines. Ideally, it would work like this: wasted heat, say from a power plant nearby or geothermal energy, is carried by a water pipe to a vortex engine which is then transmitted to air in motion. The air picks up the heat and enters the vortex causing the air to swirl inside, gathering energy and creating a vortex. According to Michaud, the vortex will keep functioning as long as heat is being funneled into it, which is where things just get a bit sticky.
A 200-meter wide tornado might just have enough power to start absorbing heat from the surrounding area all by itself (something which would be a problem if one is hoping to keep it contained, as once the tornado achieves enough energy, there would be very little to stop it from escaping, so says Nilton Renno a professor at the department of atmospheric, ocean and spaces sciences at the University of Michigan).
Still, might this be a possible solution to our growing energy needs? There are enough people that think that it’s worthwhile, including the The University of Western Ontario’s wind-tunnel laboratory, which is studying Michaud’s prototype as well as a 20 meter computer model.