[Image above] Spanish technology startup Vortex Bladeless SL is developing bladeless wind generators as an alternative to conventional wind turbines. Credit: Vortex Bladeless Wind Power, YouTube
Wind power will doubtless play an important role in global energy generation in the coming decades. But as we’ve discussed previously on CTT, the sustainability of wind turbines falls short when the devices reach the end of their life. While most of the turbine can be recycled or reused, the mixed nature of the blade material makes it difficult to decommission turbine blades in an environmentally friendly way.
Numerous companies have started investigating ways to sustainably dispose of turbine blades, such as by developing new recycling processes or repurposing the blades for bridges and electrical transmission towers. One Spanish technology startup called Vortex Bladeless SL, however, believes there is an even simpler way to deal with the blades—design a wind generator that does not require blades at all.
Vortex Bladeless: Harnessing wind through vibration
The history of Madrid-based Vortex Bladeless traces to 2008, when a group of entrepreneurs launched a startup called Deutecno dedicated to developing electronic devices. In 2012, founding partner David Yáñez was inspired to try harnessing wind through vibration after watching a video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge oscillating in the wind. The group sold Deutecno and founded Vortex Bladeless SL in 2014, after which serious development of the technology began.
Their bladeless wind generator (the “Vortex”) harnesses energy from vibrations caused by vortex shedding, i.e., a phenomenon where wind blows across a structure and forms masses of whirling air (vortices) that shed alternately from one side to the other. The shed vortices lead to alternating low-pressure zones on the downwind side of the structure, giving rise to a fluctuating force acting at right angles to the wind direction.
The video below by Vortex Bladeless simulates what these vortex-induced vibrations look like, and the second video shows the actual vibration of a Vortex in slow motion. More details on vortex shedding and how Vortex harnesses the phenomenon are available in this paper by Vortex Bladeless.
The design of the Vortex is simple—a mast made from carbon and/or glass fiber reinforced polymers is attached to a base anchored to the ground using concrete cubes. Electricity is generated through an alternator system adapted to the vortex dynamics, which is made from coils and magnets and does not contain any gears, shafts, or rotating parts.
The company estimates that, once industrialized, the total weight of the Vortex including anchoring will be in the range of 15–20 kg, and the price will be similar to medium–high-production solar panels.
“We expect Bladeless aerogenerators can handle wind peaks (around 30–35 m/s max) and heavy rain or snow,” the company explains on its website. “Nevertheless, we have not tested the device in really extreme climate conditions such as hurricanes or monsoons.”
You likely noticed that the Vortex is composed largely of fiber reinforced polymers—the material that makes it so difficult to sustainably dispose of conventional wind turbine blades. The company website does not address how they plan to decommission the Vortex at the end of its life, but they do argue in a recent blog post (critique #8) that the amount of material is much less than what a conventional turbine requires.
In the video below, Vortex Bladeless explains the other advantages it feels the Vortex offers, including less noise, easier installation, and lower maintenance. (Turn on closed captions for English translation.)
In 2016, the European Union’s Commission included the Vortex project inside its Horizon 2020 program. With that funding, in addition to collaborations with several other companies and institutes, Vortex Bladeless made such significant strides in developing the technology that it began studying the certification and industrialization processes of manufacturing in 2019 and began installing pilots in public places for more extensive field tests in 2020.
“Vortex’s team is working restlessly to optimise the last steps and get the homologation for selling,” the company writes in a recent blog post. “For the milestone of efficiently assembly bladeless turbines here in Spain we are looking for industrial partners in Europe that can provide materials and manufactured pieces.”
Learn more about the project at https://vortexbladeless.com.