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Bladeless Wind Turbines: Are They Worth The Hype?

Bladeless wind turbines do not have revolving blades and are designed to stand erect and oscillate in reaction to vortices.

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Ivan Shterev
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The wind has been an essential source of energy throughout human history, from sailboats to windmills. It has grown in popularity in recent years as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. 

Wind turbines that generate electricity are older than we might believe. Charles F. Brush invented the first such turbine in 1888. It featured 144 wooden blades and was capable of producing 12 kilowatts of power. Wind turbines transform the wind’s kinetic energy into mechanical energy. This mechanical energy can be converted into electricity using a generator, which can be used for specific activities directly such as direct grid connection and charging a battery unit.

What is a bladeless wind turbine? 

Bladeless wind turbines do not have the typical three revolving blades, and are designed instead to stand erect and oscillate in reaction to vortices. 

A bladeless turbine is not one of the most frequently proposed designs. However, it is simple and made up of only one structural component. So, it has more advantages in terms of manufacture, transportation, storage, and installation. There are no bearings, gears, or other moving parts in the new wind turbine design, so their maintenance is simple. When compared to blade wind turbines, bladeless turbines will generate electricity for 40% less money.  

There are only a few moving parts in bladeless wind turbines. They not only help to reduce noise, but they also do not pose a threat to birds. As a result, they are more advanced than their predecessors. 

How do bladeless wind turbines work? 

The energy from the wind is captured by a resonance phenomenon called vortex shedding, which is caused by an aerodynamic action. In fluid dynamics, the flow is modified when the wind passes through a blunt body, resulting in a cyclical pattern of vortices. The body begins to oscillate and enters into resonance with the wind when the frequency of these forces approaches that of the body’s structural frequency. This is also known as Vortex-Induced Vibration

Bladeless technology is essentially a vertically fixed cylinder with an elastic rod. A wind range oscillates the cylinder, which creates electricity via an alternator system. It is a vortex-induced vibration resonant wind generator.

Work principle. Source: Vortex Vladeless

The bladeless windmill is very simple to build. The conical mast is pivoted vertically with the help of a cylindrical rod that is held within a roller bearing and vibrates in just one direction. A metal sheet is used to cover the area below the pivot. The upper half of the mast flutters in the wind, while the lower part is connected to the crankshaft.

The outer cylinder is made to be mostly rigid, yet it can vibrate while being tethered to the bottom rod. The top of the cylinder is unbound and has the largest oscillation amplitude. The structure is made of polymers reinforced with carbon and/or glass fibre, which are commonly used in wind turbine blades.

Naturally, the design of such a wind turbine differs significantly from that of a conventional turbine. Instead of the typical tower, nacelle, and blades, this system consists solely of a lightweight mast mounted on a base. This saves money on raw materials (thus paying for itself quicker) and eliminates the need for a deeper foundation.

The mast is supported at the top of the rod, while the bottom is firmly fixed to the ground. It is made of carbon fibre reinforced polymer, which has a high fatigue resistance and low energy leakage when oscillating.

Work principle scheme. Source: semanticscholar

Pros & cons

There are several factors at play when designing blades for a wind turbine. Perhaps, the most important factor is aerodynamics. Aerodynamics is the science of how a solid object interacts with the air surrounding it. There are many advantages to designing a turbine without blades, just as their are pros and cons associated with conventional wind energy.

Pros

  • Bladeless turbines are extremely light and feature gravity centers that are near the ground. As a result, compared to standard turbines, anchoring or foundation requirements are greatly decreased, making installation much easier.
  • The reduced swept area of these turbines allows more turbines to be positioned within the same surface area, compensating for the loss of power efficiency with space efficiency in a cost-effective manner. 
  • There are only a few moving parts in bladeless wind turbines. They not only help to reduce noise, but they also do not pose a threat to birds. 
  • Traditional wind turbines are put under a great deal of strain in their operation. We have seen that turbine blades decline in quality over time, especially when they’re subjected to erosion in harsh weather conditions offshore. On the other hand, bladeless wind turbines have no bearings, gears, or other moving parts in the new wind turbine design, so their maintenance is simple.
  • Bladeless wind turbines generate electricity for 40% less money as compared to traditional wind turbines. 
  • Bladeless turbines can be used both on and off the grid, and they can also be used in hybrid wind-solar systems.

Cons

  • Bladeless wind turbines are still in their infancy, they are less efficient in converting captured wind power into electrical energy, which limits their widespread adoption.
  • The vane must wobble at a rather fast speed to generate a substantial quantity of power. However, the higher the oscillation speed, the greater the stress on the vane and the foundation that keeps it upright.
  • Electricity generation is influenced by changes in the atmosphere. Oscillation control systems must follow the mast’s usual frequency and vibration reliability.
  • Depending on the desired outcomes, the mast height can be increased. So, a disadvantage of such wind turbines is that their initial cost is higher than the operating cost of a bladeless wind turbine.

Traditional wind turbines vs bladeless wind turbines

The vast majority of traditional wind turbines currently being installed have three blades. The appropriate number of blades is important to match the generator performance curve for optimal overall performance and efficiency. Scientists and Engineers have discovered that harvesting wind with three blades is the most efficient and least bothersome method.

The design and utilization of turbine blades is a delicate science and one that relies on some factors such as aerodynamics and air resistance. 

Comparison between Bladeless and conventional wind turbines. Source: globalspec

On the other hand, bladeless wind turbines are those that do not have revolving blades, and energy from the wind is captured by resonance phenomena called vortex shedding, which is caused by an aerodynamic action.

Typically, wind turbines with rotor blades interact with the wind, generate lift or drag and convert it to a rotational motion. This rotational motion is then converted to electrical energy by generators while bladeless wind turbine does not involve this. This bladeless design can help to reduce the frictional losses in the system, thereby, reducing the wear.

Future of bladeless wind turbines

Although three-bladed turbines have been the standard model of renewable energy production in recent years, this does not guarantee that they will continue to be so in the future. Engineers are working on more efficient and effective designs for future energy generation, including vertical bladed turbines for home use.

A bladeless turbine is one of the most frequently proposed designs. Though it may seem counterintuitive given the resistance required to convert wind energy into electricity, there are many advantages to designing a turbine without blades. One benefit is cost and maintenance. Current turbines are put under a great deal of strain in their operation. We have seen that turbine blades decline in quality over time, especially when they’re subjected to erosion in harsh weather conditions offshore.

Many companies have developed prototype bladeless turbines that generate wind energy using gyroscopic motion. Their idea might cost up to 40% less to manufacture than typical turbines, and it wouldn’t deteriorate as much over time.

Conclusion

The cheaper cost of manufacturing and maintaining bladeless wind turbines are helping to drive more demand. In addition to cheaper costs, these turbines have a smaller power loss. As a result, bladeless wind turbines can be erected in greater numbers per unit area than traditional wind turbines. These reasons, taken together, are moving the global bladeless wind turbine market forward.

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FAQs

What are bladeless wind turbines?

Bladeless wind turbines are those that do not have revolving blades and are designed to stand erect and oscillate in reaction to vortices. 

What are the benefits of bladeless wind turbines?

Bladeless wind turbines generate electricity for 40% less money as compared to traditional wind turbines. Bladeless wind turbines have no bearings, gears, or other moving parts in the new wind turbine design, so their maintenance is simple. The reduced swept area of these turbines allows more turbines to be positioned within the same surface area, compensating for the loss of power efficiency with space efficiency in a cost-effective manner.

What are the downsides of bladeless wind turbines?

Bladeless wind turbines are less efficient in converting captured wind power into electrical energy, which limits their widespread adoption. Due to the higher oscillation speed of bladeless wind turbines, there is greater stress on the vane and the foundation to keep it upright. Wind turbines have a higher initial cost than the operating cost.

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Author Bio

Ivan Shterev is a writer, academic researcher, and graduate energy engineer who has a deep understanding of renewable and conventional energy sources. With different works on waste to energy, PVPP plants, wind farms, and biofuel production he has proven experience in the energy industry. The writing skill is acquired during academic studies that have to be presented in a written report. Other than that, he has been involved in different informative blogs about hydropower, geothermal power, and energy analysis.

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