Bladeless ‘skybrator’ wind turbine ushers in winds of change

On paper, the concept of a bladeless wind turbine might sound absolutely bonkers, but one company believes they’ve created a design which can work.

Of all of the renewable forms of energy, wind power is one of the UK’s best bets over the coming decades. It’s estimated that the UK has access to 40 per cent of wind generated in Europe due to its geographical location, making it the ideal country to harness this unpredictable force of nature.

However, critics show concern about the noise generated by wind farms, as well as the potential damage turbine blades could inflict on bird populations nearby. Spanish tech start-up Vortex Bladeless has a novel idea to side-step this – just erect a turbine, but design it to harness the power of the wind without the need for blades!

The way the winds are blowing

Vortex Bladeless has unveiled a prototype bladeless turbine, dubbed the Vortex Tacoma. Standing 2.75 metres tall, this white tube has a rounded top, in place of where you’d expect the turbine blades to be. Its peculiar shape has led some to humourously refer to the turbine as a ‘skybrator’, but it owes that name to more than just external appearances.

The Vortex Tacoma is named after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a US-based suspension bridge which famously collapsed, but not before swaying dramatically due to adverse wind conditions and a poor design. Vortex Bladeless’ founder, David Yáñez, was inspired to create the new turbine after seeing footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge appearing to oscillate in the wind.

Mr Yáñez wondered whether wind power could be harnessed through this oscillation method, allowing scientists to take the learnings from the bridge to create an entirely new way of generating power from wind.

Good vibrations

The Vortex Tacoma intends to harness wind power using a technique called vortex shedding – this method requires a vertical cylinder to be fixed in place with an elastic rod. The cylinder is made of lightweight materials, and is able to vibrate while remaining anchored by the rod, which is fixed firmly to the ground.

As the wind passes over the cylinder, it begins to be disrupted, breaking off into a series of vortices. Once these reach a similar frequency to that of the cylinder, the object begins to oscillate, allowing it to achieve complete resonance with the wind itself. No two turbines are unique – if you were to design an entire wind farm of these types of turbines, you would find yourself creating a set of turbines all with their own unique frequencies.

Vortex Bladeless turbines use a series of magnets to help adjust their rigidity, in order to keep them more closely-aligned with the natural frequencies of the wind. These allow them to become more rigid in the event of stronger gusts, and less so when the gusts die down. Such a method is dubbed a ‘tuning system’, and is instrumental in allowing models such as the Vortex Tacoma to capture winds at a wider variety of ranges.

Such a cutting-edge design allows an individual Vortex Tacoma turbine to generate as much as 100w of nominal output, with the model intended for use in small scale residential and rural wind power generation for the time being.

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