A tiny firm located in Madrid and Vila, Spain, developed a revolutionary wind turbine design based on a daring notion inspired by a 75-year-old disaster. David Yáez, an engineer, inventor, and co-founder, came upon video footage of the notorious Tacoma-Narrows bridge collapse in 1940, which was caused by wind-induced vibrations and oscillations. This video triggered Yáez’s “Eureka” moment of inspiration: What if the wind’s kinetic energy could be harnessed safely to generate electricity — without large, loud, bird-killing blades? Yáez and collaborators David were inspired by the notion.
The team’s ultimate objective is to create a compact (less than 3 meters tall), low-cost (less than $300) bladeless generator that can power individual dwellings. The new turbine will be tested in the field later this year in India.
A bladeless generator, like an extended hourglass with a weight at the bottom, may have benefits over typical turbine designs. First, without gears or other mechanical elements, bladeless generators would be less expensive to manufacture and run, as they would require less maintenance.
Second, this oscillating pillar emits no audible sound, making it appealing in rural areas where noise pollution is a concern. Furthermore, the absence of whirling blades reduces the risk of injury to birds. Furthermore, the tower’s tiny form-factor maximises energy output from each patch of real estate. Finally, VB’s ideas are intended to generate power for pennies per kilowatt-hour because to minimal maintenance costs and a streamlined form factor.
VB began its journey with private donors to fund prototypes and a pilot program, which was subsequently complemented by an Indiegogo crowdsourcing effort to assist research and development. The bladeless design gained traction, and backers assisted VB in exceeding its initial financial objective. In addition to these investments, the European Union has provided further financial assistance through the Horizon 2020 initiative, which has a €80 billion budget set aside by the EU to sponsor discoveries with potential social, economic, and environmental impact.
Of course, finance is only a small part of VB’s problem. Jose Viyeira, aerospace engineer and fluid dynamics expert at VB, took on the responsibility of comprehending the intricate physics behind the vortex effect and product designs alongside Yáez and numerous other technical professionals at VB. To create a functional prototype, an HPC machine capable of performing multiple sophisticated computations was required.
“When we initially investigated the notion of a bladeless design, we began with a basic experiment – a small-scale wind tunnel test aimed at a little plastic water bottle with a carbon fiber rod as the oscillator element,” Viyeira explained. “By doing so, we hoped to obtain a feeling of interaction between the components as a beginning point for the longer-term design process.” We were on unknown ground since no one had previously succeeded in harnessing the elastic phenomena with wind, which serves as the foundation of our design. We rapidly found that the dynamics of wind flow around the bottle are exceedingly difficult to anticipate and characterise. To construct a viable, economical, and scalable tower design, we needed the assistance of an HPC machine capable of exceptionally precise modeling.”
VB currently has operational prototypes of one-meter-tall bladeless designs. More R&D work, as well as HPC-powered CAE, are now required to grow VB’s concept into a fully functional turbine.
“We’re now undertaking actual wind tunnel experiments, and real-world models behave remarkably similar to those seen in HPC simulations,” Viyeira explained.
When the little towers have been developed, VB will move on to higher versions. When a more powerful 2.75-meter version is produced and tested in the coming months, VB intends to launch a pilot program in a remote area of India where energy is sorely needed. These places now frequently rely on solar electricity. When the sun goes down, VB devices can work in tandem with solar panels to keep battery banks charged and ready for use. The purpose of VB generators is to permit the use of smaller and less expensive batteries in a household. Longer time, VB goods pay for themselves through lower energy generation costs. A tiny 2.75-meter tower designed to power a single house will cost around $250 USD and provide roughly 100 watts of power.
Help from PRACE
PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe) is a government-sponsored program with 25 European member countries. It gives academic institutions and businesses access to some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers as well as a specialised staff of HPC professionals. Organizations ask for PRACE assistance, and once approved, PRACE colleagues collaborate with academics and scientists to support test planning, workload evaluation, code optimization, simulations, and outcomes evaluation.
The success of PRACE prompted the creation of a second program, the SME HPC Adoption Program in Europe (SHAPE), which assists new firms such as Vortex in working on important technical difficulties. SMBs can apply for free HPC help through SHAPE, the same as PRACE.
While many SHAPE projects employ a powerful desktop machine, the MareNostrum3 system at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) was chosen for the VB project. It was ranked 129 in November 2016 by Top500.org, with almost 49,000 Intel Xeon processing cores and Intel Xeon Phi nodes topping a petaflop at peak performance.
“With PRACE’s support, we can perform modeling and simulation that provides insights that we didn’t have previously,” Viyeira said. One thing we discovered is that vortex shedding – a natural phenomenon in which circular motions of fluid emerge off a solid surface, causing vibration – is affected by the Reynolds number, which specifies the fluid flow properties. As a result, it is not as simple as proportionally scaling up a one-meter functioning prototype to a far bigger structure.”
As a result of these factors, VB’s ultimate objective of a one-megawatt tower remains a long-term ambition. HPC simulations revealed that bigger towers may require design changes. To ensure durability and effective wind energy transmission, nuances must be found and addressed, as well as the right physics used in higher buildings.
Current VB designs are made up of three major components based on data from HPC simulations. Each Vortex Bladeless has a long, slightly conical cylinder constructed of carbon fiber and balsa wood in the top three-fourths. This segment oscillates, interacting with the wind and enhancing the vortex shedding effect for energy transmission. The carbon fiber tube continues to the structure’s bottom for further stiffness and strength. The actual generator is located in the center of the stack accumulates energy from the components surrounding it.
“Our founders had a vision, and due to financing from Indiegogo supporters, private investors, partners, the EU’s H2020 initiative, and fantastic HPC assistance from PRACE, we can achieve our ambition,” Viyeira said of his company’s future. A fresh concept has provided us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on a scientific adventure that we hope will help people all around the world.”
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