Conventional wind turbines that consist of three spinning blades are considered to be a green source of energy that is beneficial to climate change. However, they are not entirely eco-friendly as their spinning blades can kill birds and bats. Measures to reduce their impacts, such as positioning wind farms away from migration routes and slowing or shutting turbines down during peak migration periods can be effective, but a completely new blade design may be just the answer. The Vortex Bladeless turbine invented by a Spanish company may be just the solution.
Wind energy provides an alternative to fossil fuels, and in efforts to combat climate change, wind farms are spreading both on land and offshore. However three-bladed wind turnbines have proven to be hazardous obstacles for birds, particularly when they are sited in key breeding habitats or migratory routes. According to Birdlife, while bird mortality as a result of wind turbines may be insignificant in comparison to other human related threats — for example the number of birds killed by domestic cats — they still add to these numbers and can pose an addtional threat to rare or long-lived species such as raptors, that are already threatened. As wind energy is still a growing industry that promises to offer a clean, green source of energy that produces no emissions, it stands to reason that tapping into this energy source without using a turbine consisting of rotating blades will result in a win-win situation that will benefit both our climate and our birds.
Impact of Turbine Blades on Migratory Birds
At the small Spanish town of Tarifa, overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar, one can find nearly 1000 wind turbines. This area is also home to many breeding raptors, including Bonelli’s Eagles, Common Kestrels, Egyptian Vultures, Griffon Vultures, and Short-toed Snake-eagles. Data from just two of these wind farms has shown that their wind turbines are responsible for about 67 Common Kestral and 57 Griffon Vulture deaths each year. The Straits of Gibraltor is an important migratory route for thousands of birds migrating between Europe and Africa. Birds migrating in large groups at night or when visibility is poor are particularly vulnerable to collisions with rotating blades. It is difficult to assess the true impact that wind turbines have birds, or to get an accurate figure of how many are killed as a result of collisions, for many may fly on for a short distance before succumbing to their injuries. In most cases dead or injured casualties are not likely to be recovered as they will in all probability be eaten by predators or scavengers. For long-lived species with low birth rates and small populations, particularly species that are endangered, these deaths can devastate their population.
To address these issues, SEO/BirdLife in Spain is looking at the Vortex Bladeless wind energy system as an alternative that has less impact on wildlife, yet still offers the same benefits to humans and our environment.
What is Vortex Bladeless?
The Vortex Bladeless wind energy system consists of a wind generator sans blades. According to Birdlife, “Instead of capturing energy via the rotational motion of a turbine, it takes advantage of what’s known as vorticity, an aerodynamic effect that occurs when wind breaks against a solid structure (Kármán Vortex Street). The Vortex structure starts to oscillate, and captures the energy that is produced.”
Benefits of Bladeless Wind Energy
SEO/BirdLife has found that bladeless wind farms would not only benefit birds, but humans too. These benefits include:
- A bladeless wind energy system deminishes the chances that birds will be struck by moving turbines as they migrate through areas where wind farms are situated.
- Because they have no moving blades, the structure has a much smaller footprint, resulting in less land needed for their development, which translates into reduced habitat fragmentation, which again benefits birds and other wildlife.
- The Vortex Bladeless wind system is a simple design that requires less space to erect and less material components, making them easier and more economical to install.
- Bladeless wind systems emit no noise, which will benefit people living in close proximity to wind farms.
Future Outlook of Blade-free Wind Turbines
The Vortex Bladeless technology is currently at the prototype stage of its development and requires financial investment in order for the developers to scale it up for implementation in the wind energy sector. The company recently launched a crowd-funding campaign for potential investors to support. The company exceeded their target and the campaign is now closed, so hopefully we will see some progress soon as they set about piloting the bladeless wind technology in India to test the economic and technical feasibility of launching the Vortex Bladeless wind energy system commercially.