A new startup hopes to harness wind power with bladeless turbines.
Storms are usually used as an example of how we can’t bend nature to our will; how, when a cyclone arrives, we can’t fight it, we just have to run for cover. However, one Japanese engineer named Atsushi Shimizu didn’t get that memo. He has a new invention which he hopes can make use of the immense winds of typhoons to generate power.
Tokyo-based Shimizu and his company Challenergy, has developed a new blade-less wind turbine that he believes can stand up to the wind and abuse that can be dished out by a typhoon, and harness that power to generate electricity. The turbine has an “egg-beater” shape and features three cylinders mounted around a central rod, and responds to wind coming from any direction.
The turbine makes use of something called the Magnus effect, a force which makes air curve around spinning objects, like a football. This effect enables the turbine to function completely without the use of propellers, as in traditional wind turbines. This in turn, makes the system much more sturdy. Regular wind turbines would never be able to survive operating in the high winds of a cyclone.
“There are some estimates that wind power has more potential here than solar,” said Shimizu, “But we haven’t been able to turn that much of this wind power into actual energy here in Japan.” Much of Japan has turned to old-fashioned fossil fuel production after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster prompted the government to turn off dozens of reactors. Now, a nuclear-weary public is resisting attempts to turn the reactors back on, and that is inspiring Japan to look at alternative energy sources, such as renewables.
“A wind turbine like Challenergy’s could be very durable in strong winds, but without operating it throughout the year we don’t know if it could produce more power than conventional turbines,” said Izumi Ushiyama, a wind energy expert at Japan’s Ashikaga Institute of Technology. Last summer, the company did test out a small, 1kW version of its power plant in Okinawa, where it survived weather that would normally force a wind turbine to shut down. More testing is needed of course, but it is a promising first sign.