09 Apr Features and Vortex’s pros
As our technology is completely new and follows an innovative line of investigation in this kind of physics, people tend to mistake the possible features and pros of it. This happens the same with our cons and limitations, which we have in the same number as pros (since this is engineering, not magic). You can read about Vortex’s objections and limitations in this sibling article.
On this one, we are going to list mostly the features and pros that the internet thinks this technology has. Some are right, some are wrong, some are partially correct but misleading. Let’s walk through those in deep.
1.- This technology is harmless to people, birds, bats, insects and any wildlife.
This is in fact a happy consequence of how the device operates and wasn’t really a goal in the beginning. Happens that our oscillatory movement is small and slow enough to be similar to a slender tree oscillating in the wind, and birds and other flying animals are quite experienced in avoiding this kind of obstacles. In the case of big devices, the oscillation gets bigger but slower (less frequency), therefore it is easier for birds to just fly by as they are way faster.
On the other hand, the air pressure differences that our devices generate are not so dangerous for nearby flying animals as they are in regular wind power, since in this last case the low pressure drags the animal into collision with the blades, but in our case it will just “bother” its flying path depending on the size of the animal.
However, if a bird happens to hit a Vortex device, our masts are quite light and they will flex and bounce a little if something hits it, so a bird won’t be so injured as if it was hit by a rigid blade. The same if you happen to touch our devices with your bare hands, it shouldn’t hurt you (what windmill can say this, huh? 😎)
In addition, bats have many troubles with their echolocation system near wind parks, as the moving blades confuse them. With our devices, experts in bats think that they will be more able to “see” them and therefore avoid them.
2.- This technology is more efficient than regular wind power
It really depends on which models of turbines you are comparing. This is not measured by how much peak power a device can produce, it is not even a number that manufacturers tend to provide so you need to do some math to know the overall efficiency of a device. This number we are talking about is usually represented as Cp in formulas (coefficient of performance), represents something similar to the aerodynamic performance, and its a factor from 0 to 1, with a theoretical maximum at 0.49 (the Betz’s limit).
There are other efficiency factors like Cf (electric conversion efficiency), Cg (gearbox efficiency), etc… Vortex devices are simpler mechanically than regular wind turbines so we account for Cp and Cf only.
If you directly compare these numbers with our current prototypes and different models of wind turbines in the market, you will see they can be more efficient than some models and less than others, it really depends on the manufacturer and the purpose of the turbine. Also, this varies a lot with the size of the turbine, as bigger devices tend to be more efficient than smaller ones.
Nevertheless, generally speaking, the more mature a technology is, the more efficient it is, since engineering tends to optimize the maximum possible with time. The opposite happens with Vortex; we are very young and our tech still needs lots of optimization, improvement, and background knowledge to match the average efficiency of the regular wind power we see installed in wind parks.
NOTE: We are talking about energy efficiency here, not cost-efficiency, which depends also on the installation case.
3.- Vortex devices can be placed where regular wind power cannot.
Some basic characteristics are needed and shared between all wind techs. These are basically a nice amount of wind, constant and laminar winds, good anchoring, and some free space around. We are not an exception, but there are some details that matter here, and others that are directly not shared by Vortex and other wind technologies.
For example, our anchoring and foundation will be always lower than regular wind turbines as our centre of gravity is down in the base instead of being up in the nacelle. Also, Vortex devices are not so bothered by turbulent airflows and winds that change directions a lot.
But mainly the main two pros for it to be installed anywhere are that it is harmless to wildlife and that it needs way less free space around to work than regular wind power, either HAWT or VAWT, since we don’t suffer from the “wake effect” that is produced in downstream devices.
A curious addition is that regular wind turbines tend to interfere with radio signals and they cannot be installed near military bases and airports. Various national airforces and aerospace agencies have reached us as they tend to think our devices won’t interfere with radio signals as much as regular windmills. This is another happy consequence of the operation of the device and which was never an original goal.
4.- Vortex technology will replace regular wind power and regular wind parks.
We are not here to replace regular wind power and never will, same as vertical axis wind power has not displaced horizontal axis wind power either. We are a different kind of technology with different features, different pros and cons. Nevertheless, we may see Vortex wind parks one day in the future, it is an achievable goal.
Our tech can be beneficial or more profitable in some cases, it may not be in others. Each installation will have a wind technology that fits best. We think that offering more alternatives for the renewables market is always good to boost the energy transition that the world needs.
5.- Vortex devices can be used in boats and sail ships.
This is true, but! As you know, wind turbines on moving objects only make sense when the vehicle is not powered by an engine. On any boat that is standing still or is powered by sails, wind turbines are a clever way to charge your batteries as it is very windy on the sea.
However, there are some aspects here: For the device to work properly it needs to oscillate way faster than the ship is moved by the waves. This is not a problem for medium to big boats. The second is that we haven’t designed them for the harsh salty environment of the sea and we don’t know how current materials will respond (this has an easy fix though).
6.- The masts can be wrapped up in flexible PV solar material to generate electricity in this way as well.
Although this could indeed be done on very big devices (as the weight ratio of the mast is quite important), it really won’t worth it as the surface that will be well oriented to the sunlight will be minimal, and you will increase its production and maintenance costs. On small devices, it is just not feasible at all.
7.- Vortex devices have no gears, shafts, moving parts in contact, nor anything that can suffer friction or wear
This is one of the coolest parts of this tech and was indeed an original goal to achieve. Although we love current wind power and we think it is a wonderful technology, there are some inherited problems that make it always the second choice among all renewables.
We can achieve a completely gearless production of energy by flexing the core and the mast, so changing its plane respect the fixed part, so producing an electromagnetic induction between the fixed and moving parts of the alternator.
By eliminating the need for moving parts in contact, you get rid of oiling which is costly and produces a little pollution. You also get rid of a gearbox with efficiency losses, get rid of problems with freezing or overheating… same as solar panels! Solar is winning the race mainly because they are cheap and simple.
You could say Vortex’s goal is to provide wind power with some of the features of PV solar, as our machines seem to be closer operationally to solar panels than to regular windmills.
8.- This tech can be combined easily with urban PV solar in both housing and urban infrastructure (signs, lighting, etc…)
All renewables make good synergy together. Regular small windmills are not usually installed for urban infrastructure or private houses due to low or turbulent winds, high maintenance costs and needs, and the risks involved if they collapse or face very high winds.
Our technology behaves different, we adapt better to changing winds and require very low maintenance and anchoring. So it may be a better choice for private houses in cities or turbulent environments, or urban infrastructure with hard access for maintenance.
There is an added pro, our low profile and slender shape cast almost no shadow and it is way easier to be oriented than a regular windmill so it never blocks the solar panels. This can be good both for end-users and for adding wind power to existing PV solar parks.
9.- With the transparent mast you can place a LED light inside and turn them into “light poles” or “lamps” that produce their own energy
Well indeed you can, but don’t forget that the device is oscillating so the light inside will flicker a lot. Not really pleasant as ambient light or a street light. Maybe on bigger models that oscillate slower but we don’t see the point here really… you can always plug some external lights into their outputs and that is it.
10.- Vortex devices need no brakes and no orientation system, either active or passive.
Regular wind turbines just go faster if the wind speed increases. If they spin fast enough they literally explode by centrifugal forces. To prevent this, medium to big ones have brakes or a speed regulation system based on the blade’s pitch. They also need to face directly to the wind stream so small ones have tails like planes, but big ones need an active system to be oriented as they are heavy and the spinning forces make it hard to be turned because of momentum.
So for nowadays wind power, usually both brake and orientation systems are active on medium to big wind turbines and waste energy.
In Vortex devices, being circular means we are always well oriented to the wind (although the oscillation plane gets oriented with the wind stream). If the wind speed exceeds the device’s operation threshold it just stops and stands still like an antenna, so no brakes are needed at all in any sizes. These two were original goals when the idea was born.
Take into account that all wind turbines still have a “survival speed” where beyond they just damage and cannot continue operating. This survival speed is usually quite high, and in Vortex devices, it is as well. But a hurricane or a tornado can generate much more wind speed than the survival speed of any small wind turbine that can be made. If you live in an area where hurricanes are common you can unmount your turbine before it arrives. On vortex devices, this uninstalling may be simpler as we rely only on some screws to the ground.
11.- This technology can take profit from ground vibrations, or the oscillation that sea waves produce, or vibrations that traffic makes on highways and bridges… etc…
Nothing to do, we are in a different branch of physics. Vortex Shedding happens in fluids to free-solids interactions and Vortex Induced Vibrations is an aeroelasticity phenomenon.
12.- Vortex Nano could be used as a small off-grid charging station for low-consumption or low-frequency usages.
Vortex Nano is way too small for a wind turbine, and the smaller the turbine, the lesser power it can generate (exponentially). Usually, it makes no sense to fabricate such small turbines outside DIY projects since they produce very little power but their maintenance needs are going to be the same as bigger turbines, and they are going to die quickly if they are not well designed or the conditions exceed their limits.
However our tech is different, we are able to keep operating without constant maintenance and control, and we don’t need brakes or other added systems. So this may be a key point to make Vortex Nano actually useful in the renewables market as little wind stations. On current beta models we are installing little powerbanks inside, therefore you actually just need to plug in a USB device and you will charge it from energy that is coming from the wind.
If you don’t require that power very often (for example a station that transmits data once a day), or you don’t need a lot of power (for example that very station only needing a few atmospheric sensors), then you actually could be powering it with a few Nanos with or without help from small solar panels.
Nevertheless, we don’t know if Nanos will become a product someday, we mainly build them now because they are small, so they are easier and cheaper to be made, installed and monitored.
13.- Vortex devices can be installed much closer than regular wind turbines, increasing energy density and lowering land usage.
Where regular wind turbines usually need around five times its diameter in free space (l=5d), Vortex devices require way less, around half of its height (l=h/2). This is because the called “wake effect” of wind turbines, in where downstream devices find less energy potential on the windflow because upstream devices take it. This leads to inefficiencies in wind parks when they are not well designed or when the wind blows in a direction that was not originally planned.
In our case, we don’t rely on the same principles to harness energy from the wind, and nearby vortex devices are not so bothered by their companions. This means Vortex wind parks will require less land per device, increasing energy density, and will offer more various planning and designs since we are not limited by orientation either. If you combine this with being harmless to wildlife, it means a lot more freedom for wind installers to plan their projects, as more patches of land will be available for this task.
A curious thing is that when we install devices very close, a partial spontaneous synchronization happens somehow between devices, this doesn’t affect overall efficiency critically (might even improve it in some cases?). We didn’t realize this until we tried installing two devices quite close and we are not quite sure of why this happens yet.
14.- Vortex devices could be used in other planets, such as future Mars or Titan colonies.
Well, this is completely unknown, but other planets may have the right characteristics to have wind power on them. In the case of Mars, for example, the mean wind speed is way higher than on earth, but air density is way lower, and also gravity changes. Regular wind power from earth as it is now won’t work on mars, nor nowadays Vortex devices. But both technologies could be adapted to work on different atmospheres.
There may be three pros for Vortex technology over regular windmills here: First is the simplicity of design and the much lower maintenance, this means it will be easier to be repaired directly on the colony and would need less material and personnel to keep operating. The second is that they could be packed very tightly and they are very lightweight, both features are vital when calculating the cargo of a spaceship. The third is that we use more plastics and composites than metals compared to regular windmills, and our devices could be almost entirely 3D printed in the future, meaning they could be easily built on the colonies. All of this is uncertain though.
Maybe Elon Musk is reading this article and he is interested in performing an investigation about this tech on his future mars colony… who knows.
Now you tell us! Anything else that should be added to this list?