With all the
wacky unconventional proposals
we've seen people come up with for generating electricity in an environmentally friendly manner, is it really so outrageous to think that giant, man-made tornadoes could be harnessed to power a small city? Well that's exactly the idea being floated around the University of Western Ontario these days, which is currently testing a scale model of retired refinery engineer Louis Michaud's patented vortex engine -- a machine fueled by excess power plant heat that uses the physics of convection inherent in rising air to drive electricity-producing turbines. In its most grandiose realization, the engine (inventor's rendition pictured above) would be 200 meters in diameter and generate a 'clean' (debris-free) tornado stretching 20 kilometers into the sky able to coax 20 megawatts each out of ten independent turbines. Obviously the main concern about the anticipated $60 million project -- which would reportedly operate at just a quarter of the cost of a coal-based facility, even before taking into account the $20 million saved on a cooling tower by the participating power plant -- is that the tornado could somehow escape its confines and wreak havoc on nearby communities. Still, with all the advantages this scheme seems to offer, we're certainly willing to give it a chance -- after all, a 'malfunctioning vortex engine' is a lot less scary than a potential disaster at one of the many nuke plants dotting our landscape.