A man-made vortex is creating carbon-free energy from waste heat

Louis Michaud is collaborating with Lambton College to create vast quantities of low-cost carbon-free electricity from waste heat
John Lorinc
Conducted in partnership with AVEtec Energy Corporation, the AVE admits warm air into a circular area, causing the air to spin as it rises. This forms a small, anchored, tornado-like vortex which is used to produce clean energy. Lambton College and AVEtec built two Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) prototypes located outside Lambton College’s Centre of Excellence for Energy and Bio-industrial Technologies. This collaborative project is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and one of Facebook’s first outside investors. (Lambton College)
Lambton College energy vortex
Vortex: Lambton College is collaborating with energy innovators like Michaud through its research centre

After retiring from a process engineering position with Imperial Oil in Sarnia, Louis Michaud began thinking about how manufacturers can make better use of the waste heat that emanates from large industrial plants. He invented a device that forces hot air through a stack, resulting in an energy-producing vortex that can be used to drive a turbine engine and produce electricity. “The concept is that the system can be coupled with any source of waste heat,” says Lambton College’s dean of applied research and innovation, Mehdi Sheikhzadek. “It’s a very clean technology.”

Lambton had been working with local energy innovators since 2009, so in 2013, after patenting the AVE (for atmospheric vortex engine), Michaud approached the college for help building a prototype and attracting capital to commercialize his discovery (one early backer, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, contributed $350,000). The college’s testing process involved Lambton faculty and students studying instrumentation and control systems, as well as data gathering and processing.

READ: Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology | Sarnia, Ont. | Founded 1967

Michaud and his backers, meanwhile, set up AVEtec Energy Corp., which will commercialize the technology. The company is working with the newly established Lambton Energy Research Centre, which opened this September with a five-year, $2.3-million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Affiliated with the college, the energy research centre has a mandate to help innovation-driven entrepreneurs hone early-stage technologies.

With two years of intensive testing now complete, Sheikhzadek says the centre and AVEtec are working to engineer larger AVEs suitable for full-scale industrial applications. While the estimated capital costs for a full-scale device could run to $55 million, the AVE technology could some day provide industrial users with alternatives to traditional co-generation (an older technology that uses waste industrial heat to drive turbines) as a means of greening their facilities.

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