BOSTON—A Spanish startup company is hoping to revolutionize the clean energy industry with their newly developed blade-free wind generator. Coming in at half the cost of traditional wind energy turbines, the company claims that the new devices are safer for birds, the environment, and eliminate any risk of noise pollution by operating in silence.
After years of being plagued with lawsuits and complaints over the alleged health hazards resulting from industrial wind turbine noise, industry advocates may have found a possible solution in the new device, known as the Vortex Bladeless.
Not Your Average Wind Turbine…
The Vortex is the brainchild of engineer David Yanez, who became obsessed with finding a way to harness the same power that caused the infamous collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. By harnessing the power of vorticity, the aerodynamic effect that occurs as wind breaks against a solid structure, the Vortex begins to oscillate and captures the energy that is produced.
The inverted cone-shape design eliminates the mechanical elements that are found in traditional wind turbines that require ongoing maintenance. By integrating the tower and generator into a single structure, there are less moving parts and materials required, allowing for reduced operation and maintenance costs.
While the creators of the Vortex admit that their system is 30% less efficient than traditional wind turbines, they believe the significant savings in construction and long term maintenance will make their system more attractive to investors.
Maybe Safe for Birds, But Not Silent Say Experts
Rather than being a product of sound audible to the human ear, infrasound produced by industrial wind turbines (which is too low in frequency for human beings to hear) is suspected as the source behind a variety of health complaints made by people living nearby wind turbines, including sleep disturbance, headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, ear pressure or pain, irritability, and fatigue. Last November, audiologist Jerry Punch, PhD, and acoustical consultant Richard James, published a compelling three–part series discussing how the sound generated by wind turbines may in fact be responsible for the health complaints reported.
Wind industry supporters, however, continue to cite multiple government-backed studies that have refuted the existence of any possible links to adverse health effects from audible or inaudible noise produce by industrial wind turbines.
While the company could not be reached for comment, Jerry Punch and Richard James were kind enough to provide their initial reaction to Hearing News Watch regarding the claims made by the company:
“The Vortex will produce infrasound, as the developers readily admit, and it is infrasound that is proving to be the major cause of health complaints of people living near industrial wind turbines. Anytime an object, blade or otherwise, interacts or redirects the path of air flow, there will be amplitude-modulated acoustic energy. Given that the plan is to locate these new turbines in highly dense clusters, one can only guess how severe the reactions will be to the aerodynamic interactions of the turbine arrays. The developers even state that infrasound emitted by their system is in the range of 2-4 Hz. I don’t know what the level of the energy in this range will be, but this frequency region is what Paul Schomer and others refer to as the nauseogenic range, which is highly associated with motion sickness.” – Jerry Punch, Ph.D.
Confirming his colleagues assessment, Richard James’ initial reaction to the company’s claim of being “noise-free” was similar:
Anything that vibrates makes a sound. The sound produced by these devices will be maximum at the frequency at which the tube resonates. If the tubes were to be on the scale of 100 meters or higher the resonant frequencies would be in the low infra sound range causing sensations of motion sickness.
Sounds in the audible frequency range would be produced by the downwind vortices you see in the computer simulation. Both audible and inaudible sound could be significant.
In terms of environmental damage, they would appear to be less dangerous for birds and flying wildlife—however, that is not the only type of damage that occurs. In areas with large numbers of ground wildlife, the increased noise, especially at night, will reduce the listening radius. This is the distance at which each animals mating and other calls can be heard and the distance at which an approaching predator is heard. A decrease in the listening radius results in reduced mating opportunity and less time to respond to sounds from predators, both of which adversely impact population size. –Richard James, INCE, BME
Silent or Not, Vortex Seeking Industry Shakeup
While the company’s claims of operating in silence may be up for debate, there’s no doubting the startup’s desire to become a major new player in the clean energy industry.
The company is currently seeking to raise $150,000 to promote awareness of the technology through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
*images courtesy vortexbladeless.com