If wind turbines were considered disruptive technology, Vortex Bladeless is set to disrupt the disrupters.
This summer, the Madrid-based start-up announced a new wind turbine, the “Vortex.” The Vortex differs dramatically in structure from current turbines. Most notably, it does not have any blades. The turbine instead generates energy from an oscillating effect, perhaps making it more accurate to refer to the end result as a wind stick rather than a wind turbine.
While Vortex Bladeless intends to construct varying sizes of Vortex turbines, the original fiberglass and carbon fiber prototype is 12.5 meters tall and weighs 26 pounds. Due to its light weight, a vortex oscillates easily in wind and generates electricity through kinetic energy derived from vibrations rather than spinning turbines. The concept and name originates from the vortex shredding effect, which is the same force that destroyed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. While the vortex shredding effect can be devastating to public infrastructure, Vortex Bladeless has discovered its beneficial attributes through renewable energy generation. At the base of the structure, two rings of repelling magnets move in tandem with wind vibrations to produce kinetic energy.
Although originally a Spanish start-up, Vortex Bladeless has teamed up with Harvard and MIT faculty; in April the company relocated to Boston following its announcement that it would be manufacturing in Massachusetts.  The move to the United States spurred a wave of publicity, with Vortex Bladeless featured in Forbes, Clean Technica, Renewable Energy Magazine, and Wired articles.
The publicity is warranted, as Vortex Bladeless is boasting impressive statistics. Due to the structure of the wind turbine, overall costs are significantly lower. The company’s website declares the Vortex to be 53% cheaper to manufacture, and 51% less expensive to operate than traditional wind turbines. Additionally, because of the nonrotating nature of the structure, a Vortex degrades much less over time. Vortex Bladeless estimates that maintenance costs will be 80% cheaper than for a traditional wind turbine. The company is currently developing two wind turbines: the Vortex Gran (1 MW) and the Vortex Mini (4 kW). While the Vortex Mini should be ready as a precommercial prototype by some point in 2016, the Gran is expected to be available in 2018.
The new technology has already gained a significant amount of funding. The start-up received one million Euros from Repsol Foundation, the Spanish government, and Spanish angel investors. While the current Vortex is capable of generating power from oscillation with varying wind velocities, the company’s remaining work is to optimize energy generation.
Vortex Bladeless has been successful in garnering financial support and publicity; however, it has not convinced all skeptics. Chris Clarke, a writer for public television station KCET, would like to see the results from the Vortex Mini tests before any conclusions are drawn. Additionally, field tests for the Vortex Gran (1 MW) will be essential to determine how torque affects the structure’s foundation.
Yet, if the Vortex works as described, as of now, downsides are few. While the Vortex produces 30% less energy per turbine, the elimination of spinning blades means that two turbines can be planted in the space occupied by only one classic turbine; therefore, per unit of land, a Vortex will be able to produce 140% of an original wind turbine’s energy capacity.
Additionally, the turbine’s light weight is a huge selling point according to David Suriol, co-founder of Vortex Bladeless, who proudly stated in an interview for Renewable Energy Magazine that a“4-meter-high mast made by standard composite materials weighs 3.8 kilograms.” Its light weight facilitates transporting the Vortex Mini and means that it can be easily installed on rooftops.
Perhaps one of the most attractive characteristics of the Vortex Bladeless technology is that the structure benefits from neighboring Vortexes. During the testing process, the start-up discovered that a Vortex situated behind another Vortex “benefits from the vortices given off by the first structure.” The same conclusion has also been reached by John Dabiri, a Caltech Aeronautics and Engineering professor, who stated that wind turbines in close proximity to each other could, in some instances, produce more energy than those with a large separating distance.
Alongside cost reduction and technological advancements, Vortex Bladeless is boasting a more environmentally friendly and quiet renewable technology. The lack of blades means that noise pollution is significantly reduced in comparison to traditional turbines. It also eliminates threats to bird flight; wind turbines are currently responsible for 300,000 bird deaths annually. With its smaller structure, the Vortex requires less fossil fuel to be used in its turbine manufacturing process, and the lack of blades eliminates any oil lubrication required during the Vortex’s lifetime.
Time will determine whether the Vortex can gain enough further funding to be manufactured at scale and truly become a disruptive force in wind energy. Vortex Bladeless has a crowd-funding campaign currently in effect. Thus far, independent of investors, the company has raised just short of $70,000 from 1,218 donors.
With a Vortex design, the future of wind energy could look radically different. Because of its light weight, the Vortex structures could become viable alternatives to rooftop solar power. The technology could also convert wind farms to quiet fields that pose no threat to wildlife. If Vortex proves to be an economically viable form of energy generation, it will surely transform the wind industry.