Turning the violent side of nature into an energy source

Japanese engineers turn their attention to the power of typhoons.

Atsushi Shimizu, a Japanese industrial engineer and CEO of clean energy company Challenergy, has developed a new kind of turbine to draw energy from the destructive power of typhoons.

New ventures into wind energy in Japan come as a response to the earthquake and tsunami devastation in 2011. Known as the Fukushima disaster, the 9.1 magnitude earthquake led to three nuclear meltdowns – a major setback for Japan’s long-term energy plans as nuclear energy was slated to be the nation’s primary source of power within a few decades.

Japanese engineers are now considering energy alternatives. To alleviate the island’s current energy shortage, Shimizu and his team have created prototype turbines explicitly for Japan’s typhoon-prone landscape (there have been six storms in 2016 alone).

The typhoon turbine differs from conventional propeller-based turbines in two ways. Firstly, the typhoon turbine’s eggbeater-like design allows it to rotate (and reverse direction) in erratic typhoon winds. Secondly, its blades can be adjusted in terms of resistance according to storm intensity, curbing the speed at which the turbine rotates to ensure it does not spin out of control or damage itself.

Given that the typhoon turbine does not work with a sleek propeller, it is naturally less aerodynamic and thus less efficient than its conventional counterparts. Initial tests of Shimizu’s prototype returned a 30 per cent efficiency result (versus 40 per cent for propeller-based turbines). But the critical difference is that Shimizu’s design can actually endure a typhoon whereas other turbines cannot.

Speaking to CNN, Shimizu said, “For decades, Japan has brought in European-style wind turbines, not designed for typhoon zones, and installed them without careful consideration - they've broken almost entirely.”