In the race to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, one of the most important sectors is energy production. Stopping dependence on fossil fuels becomes, day by day, an increasingly urgent need in sociopolitical and ecological terms.
Hence, the commitment to renewable energies, which although they are not exempt from environmental impacts, become an acceptable evil in the face of the alternative we are experiencing. However, trying to find a way to reduce the impact of renewables is a complex scientific challenge in which many research groups are immersed.
One of the ways of generating electricity from renewable sources, wind power is one of the most popular and best valued. Its infrastructures do not release polluting emissions into the air and hardly any into the water. In addition, they do not require water to cool down. In general, a wind turbine or wind turbine produces little electrical energy —an average of 1.5 megawatts of power and the largest, in optimal conditions, no more than 6 megawatts—, which is why they are normally installed in groups, in what are called wind farms .
Although the impacts of wind turbines are relatively low, and significantly lower than those of other installations, they are far from zero. Due to their large size and abundance, they generate an obvious visual impact on the landscape: there are towers up to 200 meters high. Added to this is the background noise that can affect the behavior of the animals. The blades generate an impact on the populations of birds and bats , which can die from the impact or see their distribution altered.
In addition, and more significantly, their manufacture and the production of the materials with which they are built do have a high environmental impact, and although most are reusable or recyclable, the blades, which are the most relevant part of the wind turbine, do not they are.
A new generation of wind turbines seems to enter as an alternative to the turbines that we already know. These devices do not have blades or a turbine ; instead, it features a long mast that swings freely on a support anchored to the ground.
This system, developed by the Spaniards David Yáñez, David Suriol and Raúl Martín, called Vortex Bladeless , takes advantage of the physical principle of vibration induced by vortices , movements induced in a body that interacts with a fluid, produced by the movement of one with respect to another. .
This effect is normally unwanted. It affects the surface of aircraft, offshore structures and bridges subjected to wind. In fact, this physical effect was responsible for the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge , in the state of Washington, in 1940, an event that –according to his words– inspired David Yáñez.
The ingenuity of the Vortex Bladeless allows the mast to oscillate, and then, through an alternator, transforms the mechanical energy into electrical energy. There are no gears, no brakes, and no parts that need lubrication, which significantly reduces maintenance . In addition, compared to turbine wind turbines, it requires much less material to build, and since it does not need to be oriented , it has a faster response to changes in wind direction.
The Vortex Bladeless design also has its drawbacks. The electricity generation of these devices is estimated at 30% compared to a wind turbine of the same height . However, it requires significantly less horizontal space, so in a park with the same extension, more vortex wind turbines could be installed, thus compensating for the lower production.
The design is scalable; Theoretically, devices of different sizes could be manufactured. The company plans initial production of two devices; one of barely 85 centimeters in height and another of 2.65 meters; the latter is estimated to be able to generate up to 100 kilowatts. Although it seems like a small amount, its small size and low noise would allow it to be installed in cities and other populated areas –something unfeasible in conventional wind power– which could also save energy transport costs.
The work is being funded by the European Commission in its Horizon 2020 program . Unfortunately, at the moment, we only have simulations and prototypes. We will have to wait a little longer to see these devices in operation and see if they really are as promising as theoretical studies seem to indicate.
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Elsayed, A. M. et al. 2022. Theoretical and numerical analysis of vortex bladeless wind turbines. Wind Engineering, 46(5), 1408-1426. DOI: 10.1177/0309524X221080468
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Raghuwanshi, S. et al. 2020. Design and Fabrication of Vortex Bladeless Wind Turbine (SSRN Scholarly Paper N.o 3609291). DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.3609291
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