The best part of this idea - other than the fact that it is a controlled tornado used to generate electricity, is that the heat source for the warm air could be standard fossil fuel power plants. (The chamber for the AVE could just be a power plant cooling tower.) Coal and natural gas plants don't operate at particularly high efficiencies, with much of the power in the fuel source lost as waste heat; one study from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that around 68 percent of all the energy involved with electricity generation in 2011 ended up as "rejected energy." Aside from power plant waste heat, the tornado could also be fed with warm water or solar power.
Thiel's foundation's backing suggests we might actually see a prototype built, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Michaud's idea has been floating around for some time now, and hasn't yet gotten off the ground; this very publication included it in a "Powered By Crazy" feature in 2010. This is the second such bit of insanity, pulling uranium from seawater being the other, that has gone from crazy to maybe just in the last few months. But even AVEtec's "endorsements" page doesn't feature too many "Eureka!" type explosions; as was noted in the 2010 article, the Canadian Academy of Engineering merely says the concept "does not defy known physics."
Following the laws of nature is a good first step, but let's see if Thiel's money, which, at $300K, is a homeopathic amount, for a billionaire, can actually yield a tame, electricity-generating tornado.
This article originally appeared on IEEE Spectrum as Tornado Power: Breakout Labs Funds Research Into Energy-Generating Vortex
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