Most wind turbines aren’t exactly small enough to fit in a backyard–since a bigger size means more energy, a single blade can be longer than a football field. And wind power can be noisy enough that neighbors sometimes complain even when a wind farm is miles away. A new bladeless wind turbine is both silent and skinny enough that it could eventually be used at home.
“Noise is the biggest issue for residential,” says David Suriol, who co-founded Spain-based Vortex Bladeless with David Yañez and Raúl Martín. “Because the oscillation of Vortex is under 20 hertz, the human ear can’t hear anything while it runs.”
The device takes advantage of an aerodynamic effect that usually plagues engineers–as wind blows past something like a building or a bridge, it starts to swirl in new patterns that can make the structure shake. That’s usually a bad thing: A bridge near Seattle famously collapsed in 1940 when it started to oscillate along with the wind. But the new wind turbine deliberately captures oscillations and turns the movement into electricity. The tech uses magnetic coupling to make the effect happen at different wind speeds.
Instead of a tower and blades–the standard design since electricity-generating windmills were invented in the 1800s–the new turbine has a mast and a straw-like glass cylinder on top to suck in wind.
Because it doesn’t have any moving parts, it doesn’t need oil to keep running smoothly, and rarely needs maintenance. The center of gravity is near the ground, so it’s easier to reach if it does need a repair; in a typical wind turbine, blades can be more than 250 feet above ground. Without blades and huge support structures, it’s also about half the cost to make.
“For offshore wind, we are sure we’re a better option,” says Suriol. “The higher costs of manufacturing, logistics, installation, and maintenance of a conventional wind turbine mean that many companies can’t afford them in the middle of the ocean.”
For large-scale installations, over a megawatt, the company says that the current massive wind turbines work well, but their tech could coexist alongside it. They plan to launch first with small-scale, residential customers, where the new design is ideally suited.
“The first Vortex is three meters high and 100 watts, a perfect device for places off-grid that don’t need as much energy, like many places in Africa and Asia,” Suriol says. “The Vortex would work perfectly along with solar panels, using the same batteries, electrical inverter and installations.” The next version, at 13 meters high, will produce four kilowatts of electricity, a similar size to many home solar panel installations in places like the U.S.
The company plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign in June.