The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Column: Green Ideas

Tornado warnings are a semi-common occurrence here at Grinnell. When I, a New Yorker, think of tornadoes, I see Dorothy and Toto swirling around and a whole lot of destruction.

Louis Michaud, a Canadian engineer, sees them quite differently. Instead of wreckage, he sees a potential power source. There is one slight problem—tornadoes are a bit hard to control.

So Michaud found a way to make his own tornado using an invention he calls the Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE). It creates a tornado-like occurrence that generates about 200 megawatts of electricity. That would be enough to power the town of Grinnell.

Of course, it is not actually a tornado. The AVE website clearly states that “an AVE produces a controlled vortex whose base remains firmly anchored in the center of a circular structure. The vortex cannot break away from the base station and its intensity is always under complete control by varying the opening of the air inlet dampers.”

Basically, the AVE captures the energy produced when heated air travels upwards through a chimney-like container. The difference in temperature and tangential air ducts cause a spin in the heated air, which produces energy. The heat source can either be solar or from industrial waste heat, assuming the end amount of energy produced is more than the amount put in by the heat source.

Wouldn’t that be funny—fueling towns in the Midwest with energy produced by man-made tornadoes? It costs less than conventional power sources and claims to be greener than others. Perhaps one day our school will run off the energy of AVEs.

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