What's that whooooosh?
Louis Michaud, a Canadian engineer, believes he's found a way to create artificial vortexes (think "mini-hurricane") using the atmosphere as a "heat engine" to generate power. The idea is similar to what's called a "solar chimney", where air at the bottom of a column is heated by the sun and can only escape through the top of the chimney, drawing in more air at the bottom as it rises. Power can be pulled out by putting a turbine on the intakes. Michaud's idea turns this into a vortex, operating very much like a hurricane does.
This vortex would be produced inside a large cylindrical wall, 200 metres in diameter and 100 metres tall. Warm air at ground level enters via tangential inlets around the base of the wall. Steam is also injected to get the vortex started. Once established, the heat content of the air at ground level is enough to keep the vortex going. As the air rises, it expands and cools, and water vapour condenses, releasing even more heat. This is, in fact, what powers a hurricane, which can be thought of as a heat engine that takes in warm, humid air at its base, releases cold, watery air at the top of the troposphere, about 12 kilometres up, and liberates a vast amount of energy in the process. (Just as water requires heat to make it boil, it releases heat as it condenses back into a liquid.)
It sounds pretty cool, and he estimates that a 200m diameter vortex could produce 200 MW (yeah, that's megawatts) of power. I have to wonder, though....what's the failure mode? And what's it going to do to weather patterns in the surrounding area?