Japan Designs the World’s First Typhoon Turbine

After the devastating Typhoon that hit Japan in 2013 and decimated the its nuclear energy facilities, the country has begun exploring less dangerous forms of renewable energy — namely residential solar panels.

But Japan could become a wind superpower. The coastal areas of the island would be well suited for wind farms — if only the turbines could withstand the massive storms that plague the region from the Philippines, South China and Japan.

Typhoons are tropical cyclone storms that develop in the North Pacific Ocean. Wind speeds can reach 120 miles per hour, and can snap conventional wind turbines like toothpicks. These storms are fairly common, too: Japan has weathered six typhoons so far this year.

Engineer Atsushi Shimizu has designed a new type of turbine that he considers typhoon-proof. His turbines leverage two important designs to make them more resilient to strong winds: first, the turbine has an omnidirectional vertical axis, which makes it more flexible to withstand and respond to the unpredictable wind patterns of the big tropical cyclones. Second, the turbine utilizes the “Magnus effect” to increase the level of control over the blades and to ensure the blades don’t spin out of control during a storm.

The result is a turbine comprised of three vertical cylinders that rotate in the wind. The design looks something like an egg beater.

Shimizu founded his company Challenergy to build the new turbines. The company has installed a functional prototype turbine near Okinawa. During simulations, the turbine achieves a 30% energy conversion rate, making it slightly less efficient than traditional blade-based turbines, which reach efficiencies of 40%. But the company will have to wait until an actual typhoon occurs to test its resilience to high winds.

UPDATE: Challenergy may get an opportunity to test the turbine this week.

Shimizu estimates the kinetic energy derived from one typhoon could power Japan for 50 years, if that energy could be stored that long. Until then, these turbines could be deployed in the cyclone-prone areas of China, the Philippines and the US.

Feature image: A tropical storm photographed by NOAA in 2013. Chantal (CC BY 2.0) by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

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