Pure Energy Systems News
Copyright © 2005
Question: What reaches ten kilometers into the sky while one foot on the
ground? Answer: a domesticated tornado.
A domesticated tornado? Huh?
Instead of immediately imagining the rampaging funnel cloud cutting a swath of
destruction, you have get your head around a different image: with its bottom
point held in one place, the tamed tornado’s funnel top reaches some ten
kilometers into the one area of the sky – day in, day out. Reined in and under
control, its mighty mechanical energy is available to be harvested.
Canadian engineer Louis Michaud believes he has found the best way to tame and
harness the famous funnel cloud – normally considered an
economically-destructive wildcard of Nature – in his concept of an Atmosphere
In ideal conditions, a basic demonstration unit 30 meters in diameter would not
be technically difficult to establish, the inventor argues. Where the main
technical challenge lies is to keep it functioning in contrary humidity and
temperature conditions, and to keep it under control if contrary weather becomes
extreme. The biggest hurdle of all, however, may be human nature: to get
engineers and atmospheric scientists to co-operate – even if they are able to
obtain funding, which has so far not materialized.
But the objective is a hopeful one: to provide a large quantity of reliable and
renewable energy cheaply, by reclaiming steam heat that is currently just being
vented to the atmosphere (and incidentally probably adding to global warming).
And if this additional energy is obtained without increasing greenhouse gas
emissions, so much the better; there may even be hope for reducing emissions if
fewer power plants can produce more electricity.
Michaud believes that a controlled atmospheric vortex would actually help to
stabilize the weather. He also suggests that it may even promote precipitation
where needed by transporting moisture to cloud level for redistribution. This
hoped-for scenario remains to be demonstrated by computer modeling if not by an
actual full-sized demonstration.
Natural Tornadic Behavior
However, in order to capture that enormous power, hardware and control systems
must be perfected which can both sustain the tornado itself, and prevent it from
jumping free of its base station.
The natural vortex is a heat-transfer and water-transporting system that
normally occurs when surface heating forms a low-pressure zone that sets up a
dynamic vertical energy transfer. A similar atmospheric phenomenon has
apparently already been created by the use of Russian weather-control
technology, and used in a successful effort to disperse smog by bringing monsoon
rains to SouthEast Asia. (Ref)
However, that technologically-initiated cyclone was a single-purpose, one-shot
deal. It was not being maintained and controlled in order to generate usable
electricity from it.
According to meterologist Charles A. Doswell, the funnel cloud does not “touch
down” as commonly misconceived, but the conditions for its formation already
exist at the surface of the ground: He writes:
Prior to the commencement of damaging winds at the ground, the surface
vortex is weak and spread out ... as it intensifies, the winds increase and
the size of the circulation contracts. The vortex also can intensify upward
(as we think happens in the tornadoes that are called "landspouts" -
see below). Rather than "touchdown" I would prefer to consider the
observed process of the commencement of tornadic winds at the surface to be
one of "spin-up" ... I hasten to add that "up" in this
context does not imply ascent, but rather an increase of spin intensity.” (Ref)
Doswell describes driving through a vortex that was of tornadic size, as
evinced by the rapid sequential shift in wind direction to all four compass
points in turn, but not yet of sufficient speed to be visible – though it
later registered as a full-fledged tornado. The increasing spin velocity
eventually produces the drop in pressure, levitating water vapor thousands of
feet into the air.
Suitable Conditions for the Anchored Vortex
This pressure drop is the essential fact on which Louis Michaud is basing his
technological concept. He proposes to capture waste heat from industrial sources
to supply consistently the humidity and heat that Nature finds over tropical
oceans on a seasonal basis.
In ideal conditions, such a vortex could be self-sustaining once it is up to
speed. The ultimate height of the tornadic generating engine depends on the
thickness of the atmosphere at a given latitude. Because the troposphere
diminishes from its maximum height of 18 km in the tropics to about 6 km at the
poles (Ref), in the north-temperate
zone the top of the vortex is likely to situate itself at between 12 and 8 km
above the planet’s surface. At such altitudes, the atmospheric pressure is
permanently low compared to ground level. The difference in atmospheric pressure
between the controlled anchor point and the top of the funnel should maintain
the convection cycle and therefore the rotational velocity. Thus, the inventor
claims, an artificially-initiated vortex should continue spinning unless
This may be a weak point in the concept as outlined by Michaud. Natural vortical
storms dissipate because they are moving from sustaining conditions to
non-sustaining ones: from warmer to colder waters, or encountering conflicting
winds or other contrary forces. Therefore, if the steam supply drops off, the
vortex may well spin down if conditions are less than ideal, and we can assume
that this will often be the case. Thus a continuing supply of waste heat should
be regarded as essential for the sustainability of the tethered tornado.
Because cold dry air is inimical to the formation of vortices, a steady supply
of waste heat in the form of steam is essential at the site of a Michaud
anchored-vortex generating station located in a north-temperate region. For
example, in Canada the air is often both cold and dry. In a tropical region,
moisture-bearing wind moving inland from a warm tropical ocean current would
help to support an anchored vortex once it has been initiated (Ref),
while in a hot but dry climate, the moisture factor would have to be added.
The heated moist air enters the circular space at an angle that naturally drives
all the air to move in the same direction, setting up a consistent spin. As the
swirling air speeds up, the vortex rises through the open top of the containment
wall. When first created for the industrial application, the steam is of course
at, or slightly above, the boiling point of water (100 Celsius). But as inventor
Louis Michaud explained in an interview with the Canadian Discovery
Channel, even if it’s only at about 40 degrees Celsius at ground level by the
time it’s emitted as waste, this partly-used steam is at a higher temperature
than the ambient air, so it must rise. By the time it reaches the higher
altitudes, the temperature of the rising air is 25 or 30 degrees above the
cooler general air mass, and so should retain its spiral form and continue to
draw up the moist air from below. (Ref
These atmospheric temperature and pressure differences set up a convection to
draw in more air at the bottom, enabling the vortex – at least under ideal
conditions – to continue without more input of steam. The round footprint wall
is supposed to hold the bottom point of the tornado in the fixed installation
where its mechanical energy can be harnessed. Just how well it is able to do so
in contrary conditions remains to be seen.
The actual generating would be done by a ring of turbines on the ground, located
at air intake points. As the vortex itself is also much smaller than the
structure surrounding it, the number of turbines is related to factors such as
the circumference of the base unit, and how much heated airflow is expected to
support the expected lesser vortex diameter. This in turn would be tied to how
much steam is available. The turbines would convert the mechanical energy from
inflowing air to electricity. Their number, type, and output capability have yet
to be finalized, and these factors would also determine the number of megawatts
that can be obtained from each AVE.
If there is no adjustability for to respond to peak load vs base loading of the
grid, assuming a sustained 24-7 vortex, the AVE may also lend itself to
electrolytic hydrogen production. As hydrogen vehicles and other uses for this
fuel become more common, all extra electrical capacity will likely be channeled
into this application.
The mechanical energy produced by raising a unit of air to the top of the
troposphere is called Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), and it is
this energy Michaud proposes can be captured as electricity. A CAPE of 1500
Joules per kilogram is equivalent to the mechanical energy produced by lowering
1 kg of water by 150 meters. (Ref).
There seems to be a mathematical relationship in the sizes of vortex that can be
achieved, of which hints are seen in the scale model tests.
Eric Michaud has conducted miniature tests using a wood structure only 30 inches
across with four tangential air intake structures. This model creates a visible
vortex about 3 inches in diameter. In this small setup, the ratio of container
wall to vortex is ten to one.
This diameter ratio seems to decline somewhat as the experimenters go up through
the interim sizes of test setups. In June of 2005, Tom Fletcher built a square
vortex generator eight feet tall, and three feet across. This 3-foot container
wall produced a vortex 6 inches in diameter, a ratio of six to one.
The relative heights of these mini-vortices were not specified in these online
reports, but with such a small size we can probably assume that they were not
measured in kilometers. Height is probably proportional to width, and the
full-sized installations are more likely to achieve the working and alleged
self-sustaining height of the upper troposphere.
In August of 2005, Fletcher went on to build a somewhat larger though still
limited experimental tower in Utah (Ref),
which is described elsewhere as being fifteen meters tall and 30 across (Ref).
However, eyeballing the photo suggests that those measurements are stated in
reverse; it looks about twice as tall as it is wide – or more has been added
to the top since that publication described it. So far, this structure has
succeeded in creating larger vortex events including a fire spiral. (Though
visually dramatic in a video, fire is contraindicated for electrical generation
purposes. Flames produce a dry heat, which is not what Nature uses to power her
Testing in Fletcher’s location brings its own difficulties. In the dry
conditions that predominate in the desert state of Utah, the generous humidity
that would normally sustain a tornado is rare to non-existent. Experimenters
have to create moisture input by means of sprinkler hoses. (Ref)
In November of 2005, Fletcher notes improved control achieved by modifying the
size of the plywood cover his model uses to direct the heat, and discusses how
to keep the vortex from dissipating. Adding a tarp with an 8-foot diameter
orifice improved the stability of the vortex. Unfortunately the description is
minimal and somewhat unclear, but if – as it appears – this orifice was at
the top of the structure, it suggests that diagrams showing simple vertical
walls are not representative of the final form they would have to take to
sustain the vortex. An incurved wall structure may be in the cards. Such a form
also may help to deflect contrary winds from disturbing the anchoring of the
Safety and Robustness
How Safe is it?
Inventor and vortex-energy advocate Louis Michaud claims that the vortex is
unlikely to get out of control and “escape” from its handlers. He states
that it can be easily stopped by input of contrary directional airflow. This
would be like stopping the vortex in your coffee cup by stirring briefly in the
opposite direction. Back-swirling can be achieved by reversing the angle of
baffles to redirect the inflow air. Also, diverting the steam flow and allowing
cold dry air in would slow down the spinning air.
However, he is an engineer rather than a meteorologist. And his stating that
this technology should be installed away from population zones, at least while
the bugs are being ironed out, is perhaps a tacit admission that he does not
really know for sure whether the vortex could escape from its base. Would high
winds, especially if they are tending toward swirling motion, be able to entrain
this artificial vortex and pull it up out of its circular wall?
How Vulnerable is it?
Michaud mentions that non-ideal weather conditions present engineering
challenges, without specifying what those are. Can stiff crosswinds higher in
the atmosphere shear off the top of the vortex? If that happens, would the lower
part of it just dissipate? How long would it take to re-establish it, or how
often would this re-establishing procedure be required until the weather
changes? Could the swirling winds sheared off the top lock into and strengthen
an air mass that happens to be rotating in the same direction?
Would a very strong counter-rotating air-pressure system disable or weaken the
anchored vortex to the point where it stops producing power? Would very cold
weather make it more difficult to sustain? All such questions would need to be
answered with specific techniques to counter these forces and reduce the
variables. Modifying the input at ground level, such as decreasing or increasing
the rate of steam inflow is one possibility for control. Others would have to be
devised that would be proprietary to the company funding the research. And
further research along with meteorological analysis is obviously essential.
R&D: Get the Lead Out
There is excess heat from any fossil-fuel power plant, or any steam-heating
plant serving a large complex. This “waste heat” is currently disposed of by
venting it into the atmosphere through pre-existing tall towers, a practice that
certainly does not mitigate global warming. Many industries – including
nuclear plants – have such cooling stacks. These cooling towers of power
plants are subject to a lot of stresses and need to be rebuilt or replaced
regularly, as often as every twenty years (Ref),
obviously at substantial cost.
If a cooling stack can be routinely replaced with a shorter circular wall to
anchor an Atmospheric Vortex Generator, there is hope that plant-maintenance
costs would go down and profits go up – way up – by the same means. These
companies would then be able to sell a lot of additional power derived from
former wasted steam energy. And, it is to be hoped, some savings from these new
efficiencies could be passed along to consumers in lower rates per kilowatt
Using this waste residual heat is an idea whose time has definitely come. At
present, despite the height of the cooling stacks, this venting merely
contributes to global warming by adding heat to the atmosphere near ground
level, as opposed to ten kilometers up. Instead of thinking in terms of “We
need a cooling stack here”, it would be highly desirable if someday factory
owners and power-plant execs would be saying, “We’re going to anchor our
tame-tornado generator here.” This will happen only if adequate funding and
talent are put into the project.
If this system is confirmed to be effective and safe, it should be fairly
straightforward to retrofit any industrial waste-steam outlet to make it into an
AVE generation plant. These would be phased in to the power system, replacing
each older cooling stack with an AVE of related size as it reaches its age
limit. This would turn waste into a desired saleable product without need for
additional fuel input – or expenditure on advertising. The market is ready to
absorb all the extra energy that can be created, or re-created, from erstwhile
Michaud describes the usual foot-dragging by the oil industry (for which he
actually works) when confronted by a new concept. They have more than enough
funds to get the AVE through its engineering birth pangs. But the stalling
continues, inexplicably to him.
Looking at it from the point of view of the consumer, if this concept can be
made to work, such companies couldn’t buy the tornado of positive advertising
they could spin from it. If with modest funding, corporate engineers could
rapidly develop a comparatively cheap additional electrical generating capacity
from potential currently still being wasted, it would be a boost to the economy
and gain them widespread public support.
Proof of Concept: the Incarcerated Tornado
The solar chimney has as its basis a similar principle. To obtain electricity
from a vortex, the mechanical tornadic drive in a chimney is created and
controlled in a somewhat different manner from that of the base-anchored
tornado. In the fully enclosed version, the vortex of air rotates within solid
containment walls and under a glass roof. Instead of relying on steam from an
industrial source, the transparent roof serves as a solar heat collector. The
heat from the sun creates an upwind, which then drives the power plant.
This solar-chimney energy production takes place in a structure that can also be
used to grow crops, neatly combining two functions needed in dry, hot climates.
(Ref) Experiments and a prototype
tested in Spain showed that a reinforced concrete tube would be the best and
most cost-effective type of structure, especially for tropical desert regions.
The experimenters used especially-designed “shrouded” turbines similar to
pressure-staged hydroelectric models, not the speed-stepped type typical of
wind-power applications. The taller the tower, the more energy can be generated.
A solar chimney one kilometer high (1,000 meters or 3,280.84 feet!) and 130
meters (426.51 feet) in diameter would generate between 100 and 200 MW,
according to Schlaich Bergemann und Partner of Stuttgart, Germany. (Ref)
Solar-Chimney Economic Woes
This solar chimney technology was licensed to Australian company
EnviroMission, which originally planned to erect the 1 km tower in New South
Wales by 2005. In his report delivered Nov. 29, 2005, EnviroMission’s company
chairman announced an intellectual-property enhancement to the technology, along
with plans to build a re-engineered but downsized 50 MW version in 2006. The
concern behind this change was stated as the need to be more competitive
economically with gas and coal plants. It is not to be wondered at that cost
factors would stand in the way of a one-kilometer tower of such massive
proportions. Investors with cold feet can put a damper on the hottest heads of
Although EnviroMission continues to associate its renamed “Solar Tower” with
the Bergemann “pedigree”, the Australians state that the original solar
chimney design does not lend itself to being scaled down. Hot and dry Western
Australia needs electricity, but with a lower population, a smaller output
capacity should be sufficient – and much lower cost would be essential for
marketplace viability. (Ref
Thinking Outside the Box, er, Tower
However, what if a power-generating atmospheric vortex does not need
bottom-to-top confinement? If only its base is controlled, and it is free to
establish its own height, then the high cost for constructing an enormously tall
tower is eliminated, and the vortex climbs as high as it needs to based on the
pressure and temperature differential between the ground and the upper
And what if there could be a way to launch it into being a self-sustaining
vortex without needing ongoing solar heating? In northern latitudes where solar
radiation drops below usable levels for several months of the year, solar
intensity sufficient to drive the Begemann concept would be a prohibitive
Although his concept is similar to that of the solar chimney generator, Michaud
replaces its solid wall with the centrifugal force of the column of swirling
air, and the atmospheric boundary layer itself becomes the solar collector. The
expensive physical structure of a massive kilometer-high tower would not be
required if a vortex can be created and sustained as Michaud proposes.
However, unsolved technical problems and safety questions still dog the Michaud
AVE. The solar chimney, if it is ever constructed, does have the advantage of
safety and security of operation over the as-yet untamed head-in-the-clouds
vortex. It may be that both approaches to harnessing vortex power should
continue to be studied and developed, as each has both merits and drawbacks. In
the end, if both approaches turn out to be valid, each will be useful for
different latitudes, terrain and climates.
# # #
Tom Fletcher: <email >
Power from Atmospheric Pressure Differences over Geographically-Spaced Sites
- New method of power generation will harness the difference in atmospheric
pressure between locations 100 to 200 miles apart, with reliability
comparable to coal, nuclear, gas, and hydro, but at a cost substantially
lower, and with no pollution. (PESN; Oct. 27,
Power from Lightning - Having demonstrated a smaller prototype using
artificial lightning, Todd Livingstone is now waiting for the next lightning
storm to test his full-scale prototype for harnessing the energy of a
lightning strike. Technology is a reverse of directed energy weapons. (PESN;
July 10, 2005)
Cyclone Used for Clearing Smog - Reader cites mainstream press
coverage of a man-made cyclone reported in 1997. Evidence of weather
modification capability not generally acknowledged. (PESN;
Dec. 10, 2005)