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An atmospheric vortex engine (AVE) is a device for producing mechanical
energy by means of a controlled tornado-like vortex. The vortex is produced by admitting
air tangentially at the base of a circular wall.

The process could become a major source of clean energy and could provide
other benefits such as precipitation and cooling. Vortex engines would help alleviate
global warming by reducing fuel consumption or by hastening upward heat convection.


The AVE would harness the process responsible for tornadoes and hurricanes.
Raising a unit mass of warm moist air from the bottom to the top of the troposphere can
produce as much energy as lowering a unit mass of water 1000m.

Fig 1.1: Tornadoes

The operation of AVE is based on the facts that the atmosphere is heated from the
bottom and cooled from the top and that more mechanical energy is produced by the
expansion of a heated gas than is required to compress the same gas back to its original
pressure after it has been cooled. The energy is produced as a result of reducing the
temperature of the heat sink from to temperature at the bottom of the atmosphere to the
temperature at the tropopause.

The source of the energy is thermal convection, the process responsible for
producing circulation in boilers and in many other industrial processes. The technology is
akin to that of cooling towers.

Fig 1.2: Hurricanes

The vortex is started by temporarily heating the air within the cylindrical wall
with steam or fuel. The heat required to sustain the vortex once established can be the
naturally occurring heat content of ambient air or can be provided in a peripheral heat
exchanger located outside the circular wall; the heat source for the peripheral exchanger
can be warm seawater or waste industrial heat.

The peripheral heat exchanger can be a wet cooling tower or a dry finned tube
heat exchanger. The mechanical energy is produced in a plurality of peripheral turbo-
expanders. The circular wall could have a diameter of 200 m and the vortex could be

50 m in diameter at its base and extend up to the tropopause. The system would generate
50 to 500 MW of electrical power.

An AVE is a solar chimney where the physical chimney is replaced by the

centripetal force produced by spiraling upward airflow. The AVE has the same
thermodynamic basis as the natural draft cooling tower except that the material
hyperbolic stack is replaced by centripetal force in the vortex. Replacing the
conventional cooling towers of a thermal power plant with a vortex cooling tower
could increase power output by 20%.

The description of the process is followed by presentation of its

thermodynamic cycle and by engineering calculations. The process is analyzed using
both the total energy equation and a chemical engineering process simulator. The
relationship of the AVE to current atmospheric science is reviewed. Finally
implementation options are considered and discussed.



Louis Michaud came out of retirement to restart his adventure by creating an innovative
alternative source of energy through the AVE which was patented in the year 2005 in Ontario,

Fig 2.1 Louis Michaud with the LM 3 AVE Prototype

Whenever we hear the word “Tornado” we think of destruction and catastrophe. But, to
one man it meant, “How can I generate power with that?” It makes sense. Most large scale power
generation methods, directly or indirectly involve rotating parts and tornadoes possess a huge
amount of rotational kinetic energy. So if we could create a tornado and harness its kinetic
energy, it would effectively provide us with a clean source of energy (provided that it is

Generally tornadoes are caused by the presence of a large temperature gradient present in
the atmosphere. The lower atmosphere is heated up by the ground and the top layers remain cool
and since hot air is lighter, it will rise upwards creating a draft. This provides for the upward
vector and there is also lateral and sideward movement of wind caused by the rotation of the
earth. This causes the formation of a vortex which is rising upwards.

As a comparison with hydroelectric energy, raising one unit mass of warm air from the
bottom to the top of the troposphere can produce as much energy produced by a unit mass of
water with a potential head of 1000m.So to recreate such a condition, Canadian inventor, Louis
Michaud designed a machine which would create a controlled tornado and harness its kinetic
energy due to the convective mixing to generate electricity, the “Atmospheric Vortex Engine

Fig 2.2 Atmospheric Vortex Engine Prototype at Breakout Labs

Later he founded the company AVEtec which is being funded by the Thiel Organization
b PayPal cofounder, Peter Thiel. Breakout Labs, a branch of the Thiel Organization, founded in
2011, found AVEtec to be a viable candidate to receive a $300,000 grant to work on their AVE
research. In partnership with Lambton College in Ontario, Michaud and his team are building a
large prototype capable of producing a 26 meter wide, 100 meter high vortex working to rotate a
1 meter turbine on their campus to demonstrate the power producing potential of the AVE.

Fig 2.3 Tornado Man – Louis Michaud


The basic underlying concept is that the temperature distribution in the atmosphere. The
atmosphere is a boundary between the solid land of earth and the cold vacuum of outer space. It
is therefore heated by the land (which is heated up by the sun) and cooled by the cold outer
space. Therefore, the atmosphere runs from a hot temperature at the bottom and reduces as we go
higher. This temperature is a static study of heat transfer. But, a temperature gradient in fluids
causes a constant mixing. This is because of the direct relation between temperature and volume,
i.e. as the temperature increases, it causes the fluid to expand (increase in volume).

Fig 3.1 Basic Peripherals of AVE

When the volume increase, the density decreases and therefore the gas become lighter
and exerts a buoyant force on the upper cold atmosphere. When this force becomes greater than
the downward pressure from the other layers, it causes a thermal convection mixing between the
hot and cold elements. Generally tornadoes form when the temperature difference is about 200C
between the ground air and the air present above causing vigorous rotational cells.

Fig 3.2 Cross- sectional diagram of AVE

In the atmospheric vortex engine, air is initially heated in a concentric cylindrical

chamber and is introduced tangentially into the central area. The heat required to sustain the
vortex can be obtained from various sources like industrial waste heat, solar concentrators, warm
sea water, hot springs, etc. and can be transferred to the incoming air through a heat exchanger.
Cooling towers (Natural Draft type) present in industries can stand-in for the heat exchangers of
an AVE. The industrial waste heat from hot flue gases can transfer it to tangentially incoming
atmospheric air. According to calculations from Louis Michaud, a cooling tower having a base
diameter of 200m could produce a tornado with a 50m diameter at the base and extend up to the
top of the troposphere. This could produce 50 to 500 MW of power.


After being heated by multiple peripheral heat exchangers, the warm air enters at a sub-
atmospheric pressure through the tangential air-entry ducts into the central area which is called
the arena. The flow rate can be controlled by variable flow restrictors present either upstream of
the peripheral cooling section or at the tangential entry ducts.

Fig 3.3 Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) plan view & front view

The arena is covered with an annular roof with a central circular opening which helps the
entering air to converge and form a vortex. Regarding the dimensions, the roof opening can be
about 30% of the cylindrical wall, the vortex diameter can be anywhere from 10% to 50% of the
roof opening diameter, the height of the arena is 30% of its diameter and the tangential entry
height is half of the arena height. The floor of the arena can be made rough to optimize vortex
mixing. Since we need a controlled tornado, the flow rate of the heated air can be restricted to
reduce the vortex rotation speed. The rotational energy could be transferred to turbines which
collect the energy through gas expansion to turn the blades which turn an electric generator.

Cooling towers are usually present in thermal power plants to dump the excess heat into
the atmosphere. A power plant which produces 500MW of power spews out almost 1000MW of
power as waste heat. Coupling a natural draft cooling tower with a vortex engine would increase
the power output of the plant to 700MW, therefore saving 20% of wastage heat (200MW out of
1000MW) and increasing power output by 40% (500MW to 700MW). These vortices could
potentially rise to 15km into the atmosphere.

Fig 3.4 The AVE Power Cycle

4.1 Conventional Solar Chimneys
The vortex engine operates on the same thermodynamic principle as the solar chimney. A
solar chimney power plant consists of a tall chimney surrounded by transparent solar collector;
the turbines are installed in the base of the chimney downstream of the solar collector, see
Schlaich et al. The Manzanares solar chimney built in Spain in the 1980`s, which operated for
7 years, had an electrical output of 50 kW, a 10 m diameter chimney 200 m high, and a 6000 m2
solar collector.

The Australian solar chimney project proposed by EnviroMission would have an

electrical output of 200 MW, a 130 m diameter chimney 1 km high, and a 40 km 2 collector area.
The 4000- fold power increase is due to increasing the collector area by a factor of 700,
increasing chimney height by a factor of 5, and from smaller losses. The heat to work conversion
efficiency of a solar chimney is proportional to its height.

Fig 4.1 Conventional Solar Chimney

The Manzanares plant had a theoretical efficiency of 0.7% whereas that of the proposed
Australian plant is 3%. The actual efficiency of the Manzanares plant was 0.1% because the
efficiency of the solar collector was only 30% and because a large fraction of the energy was lost
as exit kinetic energy.

A vortex engine is a solar chimney where the physical chimney wall is replaced by the
centripetal force produced by spiraling upward airflow. The peripheral heat exchanger eliminates
the need for the conventional solar collector. The efficiency of a vortex engine could be as high
as 30% because a vortex can extend to a much greater height than a physical chimney. The
chimney height required to produce a significant amount of power using a conventional solar
chimney is prohibitive, but replacing the physical chimney with a vortex could make the
atmospheric convection process an economically attractive energy source. The heat received per
unit mass of air was around 20 kJ kg-1 in the Manzanares solar chimney, would be around 30 kJ
kg-1 in the Australian solar tower, and could be 20 to 100 kJ kg-1 in an atmospheric vortex

The work produced per unit mass of air raised was 130 J kg-1 in the Manzanares plant,
would be 600 to 1000 J kg-1 in the proposed Australian plant, and would be 10 to 30 kJ kg-1 in
the vortex engine. The upward air flow in a 200 MW AVE could be 10 times less than in the 200
MW Australian solar chimneys because the work per unit mass of air is 10 times higher. The
diameter of the vortex at its base in a 200 MW vortex engine could be 50 m, three times less than
the diameter of the proposed Australian solar tower, because only one tenth as much flow would
be required to produce the power.

4.2 Other design considerations

Enthalpy transfer between liquid water and air is proportional to the affinity of the air for
water and to the surface to mass ratio of the liquid droplets. Affinity increases exponentially with
the difference in vapor pressure between the liquid and the vapor phase. The rate of enthalpy
transfer from the liquid phase to the gas phase decreases as equilibrium is approached. Increasing
the contact time and decreasing the drop size reduce the approach to equilibrium.

The temperature of the water decreases as it falls through the cooling tower therefore the
air going through the lower part of the tower comes in contact with water which has been cooled
by the air in the upper part of the tower. The radial length of tower fill and the water flow could
be increased to reduce the effect of the water getting cooler. Industrial cooling towers, where the
goal is to produce cold water, typically have mass flow ratio of water to air of 1:1. A vortex
engine using warm seawater as the heat source where the goal is to produce high enthalpy air
could have a water to air ratio of 2:1. The air inlet to the cooling cells would be sized to keep the
air velocity in the cooling tower below 3 m/s to prevent high air velocity from damaging the fill,
and to increase residence time and thereby reduce the approach to equilibrium.

Sub-atmospheric pressure in the cooling tower would enhance heat transfer because
affinity is higher at lower pressure and because for a given temperature air can hold more
water at lower pressure.

The shape of the upward flow conduit does not affect an ideal process; replacing the
circular upward flow tube with an annular tube can help explain how a vortex can act as a
dynamic chimney. Giving the rising air rotation about the vertical axis before it enters the
annular tube makes the air spin as it rises. The resulting centrifugal force opposes the radial
differential pressure. If the annular walls were suddenly to disappear, the diameter would
adjust itself until the radial pressure differential is balanced by centripetal force. Turbulence
in the radial direction is inhibited because if a particle of air moves inward its tangential
velocity increases to conserve angular momentum resulting in an increase in centripetal force
which in turn pushes the particle back outward.

As a result the flow in the vortex is laminar instead of turbulent as evidenced by the
smooth thread shape of some tornadoes and waterspouts. Centrifugal force stabilizes the
flow reducing turbulence and friction losses. The rising air behaves like a spinning top being
raised; there is little decrease in the angular momentum of the large mass of rising air in the
30 minutes or so required for the air to rise to the top of the troposphere.

The 9 m diameter by 6 m high prototype produced 25 cm diameter vortices extending up
to 40 m beyond the top of the prototype. The air was heated by 30 to 50 °C with propane air
heaters located in the 1.5 m high lower chamber, entered the periphery of the 1.2 m high upper
chamber tangentially and exited via a central roof opening and a 1.8 m diameter by 3 m high
transparent cylinder. The air heaters were direct fired propane construction heaters called
salamanders. The heaters were located in the lower chamber rather than the air inlets to avoid
pushing air into the prototype. There was no motor or mechanical energy input. The only driving
force was the buoyancy of the rising warm air.

Heat input and the air flow were typically 100 kW and 2.8 kg/s respectively. Vortices 50
cm in diameter could be produced consistently within the transparent plastic cylinder. Vortices
extending beyond the top to cylinder could only be produced at winds of less than 1 m/s. Slight
wind was sufficient to push the smoke sideways at the top of the cylinder and to destroy the
vortex. Producing vortices extending high in the atmosphere with a small prototype was a
challenge and could only be achieved occasionally.

On the occasions when the vortex extended beyond the top of the cylinder, the diameter
of the vortex in the cylinder appeared to shrink from about 50 to about 25 cm as extension
developed. This shrinkage was interpreted as an indication that the air rising in the lower part of
the vortex was drawn up by the buoyancy of the air in the upper part of the vortex.

The prototype had: 10 temperature probes, 3 air velocity sensors, 2 hot wire
anemometers, 1 propeller anemometer, many tell tale flow indicators, 2 humidity sensors, 1 fuel
flow transmitters, 1 pressure transmitter two low velocity wind socks and a weather station. Data
was collected continuously with a state of the art industrial data acquisition system. Vertical
velocities in the vortex were estimated at 1 to 3 m/s. Horizontal velocities of up to 12 m/s were
measured near the base of the vortex. The heat input from the three salamanders and the opening
of the eight air inlet doors were adjustable. The maximum available heat input was 260 kW.

Vortex visualization techniques were developed. Smoke was injected in the center of the
vortex to make it visible. A 10 cm diameter pipe was provided to draw smoke from smoke
emitters into the vortex. Vortex visualization was an important documentation tool.

The vortices were only visible for the 2 minutes duration of the smoke emitters but must
have been present for longer duration and more frequently than observed. The production of
vortices was enhanced by the use an additional circular 20 kW propane heater located in the
center and on the floor of the upper chamber. The vortex was too small to drive a turbine but was
capable of driving propeller type anemometer or a pinwheel.

Pressure reductions of up to 10 Pa were measured at the base of the vortex. The fact that
smoke was drawn in the center of the vortex showed that pressure reduction was produced. The
power produced by the small vortex was calculated to be in order of 10 W.

The prototype demonstrated that vortices can be produced from low temperature heat.
The prototype has been a valuable learning environment and has provided the basis for the
design of larger AVE’s. The temperature of the air rising in the vortex was typically 60 °C. The
size of the vortices produced by the enclosed prototype may have been limited by the diameter of
the roof opening relative to diameter at the deflectors circle or by the convoluted air path of the
two chambers arrangement. Many configuration and modes of operation were tested. Ambient
conditions had more effect of the vortex than the mode of operation making for arduous testing.
Changing the diameter of the deflector circle was not practical on the enclosed prototype.


As a result of the enclosed prototype findings, an unenclosed prototype, intended to

provide less interference with the flow and more flexibility, was built at the Lambton College
fire school. The fire school was an appropriate location since producing fires and smoke are
integral to its function. The deflectors consisted of potable fence sections covered with aluminum
siding. The warm air was provided by four 90 kW indirect diesel fired air heaters. The
temperature of the air at the outlet of the heaters was typically 50 to 65 °C. Total heat available
from the heaters was usually in the 200 to 300 kW range. The heat input to the vortex may have

been considerably lower because only part of the warm air from the heaters entered the vortex.
The unenclosed prototype produced vortices up to 50 cm in diameter by 80 m high. The
unenclosed prototype produced vortices more consistently than the enclosed one. It was almost
always possible to produce vortices when the wind was under 1 m/s and once established the
vortices were able to sustain winds of up to 2 m/s. Some of the vortices lasted over 10 minutes.



There is an urgent need to stop global warming; there is no hope of doing so without a
cheap, carbon free and abundant energy alternative because humanity will not accept drastic cuts
in energy availability. The energy produced in hurricane Sandy was more than the energy
produced by humans in a year. The power produced by large tornadoes can exceed the power
output of a large power station. There is no physical reason why the atmospheric energy
production process could not be controlled.

Mother Nature does it why can’t we?

The AVE is an energy alternative with enormous potential; it will produce atmospheric vortices
and harness their energy. Atmospheric upward heat convection could provide abundant carbon
free energy. Transporting a small part of the heat stored in tropical oceans upward to the upper
troposphere could provide abundant clean power. There are many low temperature heat sources
at hand such as warm humid air and waste heat. Nature produces vortices in a wide range of
sizes: dust devils, water spouts, tornadoes, fire whirls and hurricanes. There are many ways
tornado like vortices could be produced and controlled to produce energy and other benefits. We
are not doomed to become extinct from global warming – there is hope.



1. Emanuel K (1986) An air-sea theory for tropical cyclones. Part 1:

steady-state maintenance. J Atoms
2. Holland G (1997) The maximum potential intensity of tropical cyclones
3. Michaud L (2000) Thermodynamic cycle of the atmospheric upward heat
convection process. Meteorol Atmos Phys 72:29-46
4. Michaud L (2001) Total energy equation method for calculating
hurricane intensity. Meteorol Atmos Phys 78:35-43
5. Renno N, Bluestein H (2001). A simple theory for waterspouts.