The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.

One Man's Mission to Recreate Tornadoes to Produce Electricity

Fossil fuel power plants generate ample waste heat that can be used to make more electricity. Here is a novel idea to do just that: creating a huge vortex of warm air to cause a change in pressure at the bottom in order to drive a turbine-generator.

The idea is unusual, and for 35 years Louis Michaud, a retired engineer from ExxonMobil, has mulled over how to bring the concept into reality. Michaud just got some backing, and it’s coming from a prominent Silicon Valley technology investor. A foundation by Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, just awarded Michaud a $300,000 grant to show that his idea could work, said Michaud from his home in the Canadian province of Ontario.

“I think there is a huge potential here, and I don’t want to let it go,” Michaud said.

The money will allow Michaud to experiment with and document the creation of a mini vortex for electricity generation at the Lambton College in the city of Sarnia. The college, located in an oil drilling region, has the proper lab equipment for his project.

The concept for creating a vortex, like a tornado, is based on the fact that air, when heated, will expand, become lighter and rise up.  As the air rotates and goes up, the pressure at the bottom of the vortex becomes lower. As surrounding air enters at the bottom, and the difference in pressures then drives a turbine generator to produce electricity.

The diameter and height of the vortex make a difference in how much energy can be produced. A vortex that is 200 meters in diameter and goes up 10 kilometers into the air could have the production capacity of 200 MW, Michaud said. He envisions power plant owners to set up vortex-building equipment at existing facilities to make use of the waste heat and increase the overall electricity-production efficiency of the power plant.

There already are technologies that exist today to harness waste heat at power plants. A combined-cycle natural gas power plant takes the heat byproduct from burning natural gas and makes steam to run a turbine generator. Doing so increases the efficiency of a power plant from the 40 percent range (simple-cycle design) to just over 60 percent (combined-cycle design).

Michaud claims that his vortex station could make use of the waste heat a second time and boost the efficiency by another 20 percentage points.

For his prototype project, he plans to build a much smaller one that goes up 15 meters into the air and shows how it could turn a turbine. Michaud hopes to produce enough results to prove the technology concept by the end of the summer of 2013.

If he can demonstrate the idea’s feasibility, then he will eventually need some willing power plant owners to give him a chance for a field demonstration. To make this happen will be especially difficult because power plant owners aren’t known to take technology risks. For one thing, they have to abide by a host of regulations, including safety rules, and often under law they could get penalized for not maintaining a reliable supply of electricity. Trying out new equipment could throw their energy production out of whack.

If all goes well, though, Michaud hopes to make money from licensing the vortex station design to power plant builders and owners.  


Electric Vehicle

Tesla E-motorcycles Complement SolarCity Microgrids

Mahesh Bhave, Contributor Batteries are the renewed focus of attention given the launch of Tesla’s PowerWall on April 30. What or where might the next major application be? Utility scale storage appears to be one. My thesis is that launching Tesla e...
Canadian Climate Goals

Canada Announces Weak Climate Target

Danielle Droitsch, NRDC Last week, Canada has announced its contribution to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases by announcing its post-2020 target. The target announced today is off-track to the 80 percent cut by 2050 they committed to in...
Renewable Energy Stocks

What Drives Alternative Energy Stocks?

Harris Roen, The Roen Financial Report Alternative energy became a serious market player after the turn of the millennium. Since that time, solar, wind, smart grid and other alternative energy stocks have experienced both strong up and down trends. The forces at...

Coast to Coast and Across the Electric System, Microgrids Provide Benefits to All

Dick Munson, Environmental Defense Fund At the most obvious level, microgrids could disrupt today’s utilities and their regulated-monopoly business model, because they challenge the centralized paradigm. In a nutshell, microgrids are localized power grids that ha...
Ucilia Wang is a California-based freelance journalist who writes about renewable energy. She previously was the associate editor at Greentech Media and a staff writer covering the semiconductor industry at Red Herring. In addition to Renewable En...


Volume 18, Issue 3


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @megcichon @jennrunyon



Using Grid data analytics to protect revenue, reduce network losses...

Energy Storage USA 2015

Energy Storage USA is the leading conference in the United States focuse...

International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo

Now in its 31st year, the FEW provides the global ethanol industry with...


Get Into Your Prospect's Shoes

    It may sound simple, but one of the best strategies for d...

The Question Trilogy

    It’s crucial to learn what your prospect needs from...

Helping Small Businesses Visualize Savings

    What does a small business owner care about? Most are run...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now