Most of us know that tornadoes are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and dangerous. But a Canadian engineer thinks they could be the future of electricity generation. He wants to make electricity from artificial tornadoes.
Louis Michaud, a retired petroleum engineer in Sarnia, Ontario, plans to use the waste heat from conventional power plants to create an "atmospheric vortex engine" - a small, controlled tornado that would drive turbines and generate electricity. "I'm confident that we could control these things," he says. Michaud also thinks solar powered tornados generated using the sun's heat could also work.
His latest design is a circular wall 200 meters across and 100 meters high without a roof. Air carrying the waste heat would be blown in from vents on the sides, spinning around the walls into a vortex that becomes just like a real tornado. Once started, the vortex would draw in more hot air from vents in the wall, pulling it past turbines and generating electricity.
Michaud calculates that a vortex engine of this size would create a tornado about 50 meters in diameter and generate between 50 and 500 MW of electricity.
He first patented the idea in 1975 as a "whirlwind power system", you can see a diagram from the document above. Since then Michaud has made various models, you can see a video of one of the latest, 4 meters in size, here (.mpg format).
A recent assessment by an independent engineering consultant Clem Bowman and colleagues concluded the idea deserves more research. But for that to happen Michaud needs more funding, he hopes to interest a power plant operator.