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Good vibes created by bladeless wind energy tech: Can a 'skybrator' contribute to wind energy generation?

"We need to look especially carefully at technology when we really, really want it to work."

“We need to look especially carefully at technology when we really, really want it to work.”

Photo Credit: Vortex Bladeless

It might be hard to take a device nicknamed "skybrator" seriously — and you may continue to giggle after seeing the machine in action — but this bladeless wind energy tech under development in Spain aims to be a solution to wind power issues, even if it's not a silver bullet.

Vortex Bladeless, a startup based in Ávila, northwest of Madrid, has designed an upright cylindrical wind energy harvester that works by oscillating rather than using a rotating blade. 

Because of its design, Vortex Bladeless claims the invention will be easier to manufacture and assemble, require fewer parts and less maintenance, function in less wind, not need to reorient to different wind directions, and be quieter and safer for birds and wildlife than conventional wind turbines. Also, unlike standard turbines, it apparently doesn't need lubrication.

In November, the YouTube channel Future Galaxy said the company is "planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign soon to raise funds for mass production and distribution." The business has also considered products in a range of sizes, according to the post.

Other proven, conventional wind turbines look like giant propeller on poles, but this new bladeless technology in development looks, yes, more like a certain sex toy. It uses its streamlined shape to vibrate via a phenomenon called "vortex shedding" — basically moving with air pressure caused by wind swirling around the cylinder that makes it oscillate relative to its base, where electricity is created using an alternator, according to the company.

Vortex Bladeless touts its invention as "a new urban/residential opportunity for wind power" but also says "this technology doesn't aim to replace regular wind turbines nor is better than them. We propose an alternative with radically different characteristics that may open new horizons to wind energy in all scales from micro-wind to large-scale generation."

Standard, large wind turbines produce more power than any other wind tech available, but one argument for small-scale wind turbines is their versatility. Big, highly visible wind farms can't be placed in all locations with wind, especially urban areas.

The United Nations gives several reasons why developing clean energy such as wind and solar is important, including that burning coal, oil, and gas accounts for more than 75% of all pollution that overheats the planet and more than 80% of all energy generation.

If the goals of Vortex Bladeless are realized, it could shake up the wind energy field — at least in certain contexts. But responses have been mixed or critical.

In a 2021 article about the tech's "good vibrations," The Guardian noted Vortex had "won the approval of Norway state energy company Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups within the energy sector." And the company shares details in a "green paper" and "third-party documentation" on its website.

Recently, the company has been quiet online. And there has been wariness dating back to at least 2015 about this device that has spent a long time in development — such as from PBS SoCal, which noted "the company is up against some very tricky engineering issues that may well make its turbines fail to compete in the real world."

There's of course the snickering due to the tech's appearance, too: "The unmistakably phallic design attracted more than 94,000 ratings and 3,500 comments on Reddit," The Guardian noted

Whether this intriguing idea is a novelty or a practical solution remains to be seen. Yet the aim of gathering wind energy in new ways is admirable.

As PBS put it, "We need to look especially carefully at technology when we really, really want it to work."

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