Paypal co-founder and first major investor in Facebook Peter Thiel is now no newbie to environmental investments, recently investing in projects such as 3D bioprinted meat and an energy storage startup. One of his most recent investments is a small grant of $300,000 to a Canadian inventor who has dedicated years to harnessing human-made tornadoes to produce power.
The funding was made through Thiel’s Breakout Labs, part of the Thiel Foundation, which provides funding opportunities for “cutting-edge, early-stage science and technology research ideas.”
Louis Michaud, the Canadian engineer behind the project, has a startup called AVEtec, with technology called the Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) that he has been working on for the past several years. The design introduces warm, humid air to a circular station, where it turns into a controlled tornado. The idea is that this will drive multiple power turbines. This process can be shut off at any time by removing the warm air source.
The energy delivered from the vortex is carbon emission-free, costing only 3 cents per kilowatt hour, which is pretty cheap compared to coal’s price, which can be as high as 5 cents per kilowatt hour – with exceptionally high emissions in comparison.
The only problem is that a large power plant is needed to create a usable amount of power, and an appropriate building has yet to be built and tested. The tornado column in a plant designed for commercial use would have to be 130 feet tall. That would be quite a tornado.
In terms of energy input, Michaud’s plan is to create tornadoes using waste heat from plants and factories, harnessing energy from the vortexes they create. He will be working with Lambton College in Ontario to develop a prototype with Thiel’s funding.
It seems that Thiel is becoming a decent source of funding for very early-tage, cutting-edge cleantech products that have serious potential. The grant issued to AVEtec sounds like just what it needed to get noticed and take the next steps. Do you think a project like this could really work?
Image: Breakout Labs