An atmospheric vortex engine (AVE) uses a controlled vortex to capture mechanical energy produced when heat is carried upward by convection in the atmosphere. A tornado-like vortex is produced by admitting warm or humid air tangentially into a circular arena. Tangential entries cause the warm moist air to spin as it rises forming an anchored convective vortex. The work of convection is captured with turbines located at ground level around the periphery of the arena. The heat source can be solar energy, warm water or waste heat.
The vortex engine has the same thermodynamic basis as the proven solar chimney except the physical tube of the solar chimney is replaced with centrifugal force. There is no need for a solar collector – The solar collector is the earth’s surface in its unaltered state.
An AVE power station could have a diameter of 200 m and generate 200 MW of electrical power at a cost as low as $0.03/kWh.
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The concept of a vortex engine, independently proposed by Norman Louat and Louis M. Michaud, aims to replace large physical chimneys with a vortex of air created by a shorter, less-expensive structure.
Michaud’s patent claims that the main application is that the air flow through the louvers at the base will drive low-speed air turbines (21), generating twenty percent additional electric power from the heat normally wasted by conventional power plants. That is, the vortex engine’s proposed main application is as a “bottoming cycle” for large power plants that need cooling towers.
The application proposed by Louat in his patent claims is to provide a less-expensive alternative to a physical solar updraft tower. In this application, the heat is provided by a large area of ground heated by the sun and covered by a transparent surface that traps hot air, in the manner of a greenhouse. A vortex is created by deflecting vanes set at an angle relative to the tangent of the outer radius of the solar collector. Louat estimated that the minimum diameter of the solar collector would need to be 44+ metres in order to collect “useful energy”. A similar proposal is to eliminate the transparent cover. This scheme would drive the chimney-vortex with warm seawater or warm air from the ambient surface layer of the earth. In this application, the application strongly resembles a dust devil with an air-turbine in the center.