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You are here: > News > Dec. 14, 2005

Power Plant Plug-in

Spinning Power from Waste Energy: Louis Michaud’s Atmosphere Vortex Engine

Tamed-tornado, anchored-vortex concept said to offer a vast increase in electrical output using waste heat from existing power plants. Small prototypes are promising.

by Mary-Sue Haliburton
Pure Energy Systems News
Copyright © 2005

Artist rendition of Louis Michaud’s Atmosphere Vortex Engine.

Watch Discovery Channel Canada video interview.
View an Artist Rendition of the Solar Tower (6.7MB in Windows Media format)

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 Vortex Engine.

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 intentionally stopped.

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.

Tangential Input

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 [video])

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.

Small-scale Testing

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 rainfall engines.)

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 AVE.

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 hour.

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 waste.

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

View an animated artist rendition of the EnviroMission Solar Tower
(6.7MB in Windows Media format)

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 enthusiasm.

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 [pdf])

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 troposphere.

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 requirement.

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 >

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See also

Page posted by SDA Dec. 14, 2005
Last updated November 21, 2014





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