Tornados are very energetic. But of course, they are far too unpredictable and uncontrollable to actually make use of that energy. Right?

Peter Thiel, billionaire founder of PayPal and early Facebook funder, says wrong. Thiel’s foundation, through its Breakout Labs fund, awarded US $300,000 to a company called AVEtec, based in Canada, to work on designs and prototypes for an “atmospheric vortex engine.” The AVE involves a circular chamber into which warm air is introduced at tangential angles, creating a rising vortex controlled by colder air above the chamber (mini-prototype pictured blow). Turbines at the base will spin thanks to the artificial tornado, generating energy. According to AVEtec, a 200-meter wide version of this could generate 200 megawatts of energy at a cost of only $0.03 per kilowatt-hour, below even the cheapest forms of power we have now.

In a press release from Breakout Labs, AVEtec founder Louis Michaud said: “The power in a tornado is undisputed. My work has established the principles by which we can control and exploit that power to provide clean energy on an unprecedented scale. With the funding from Breakout Labs, we are building a prototype in partnership with Lambton College to demonstrate the feasibility and the safety of the atmospheric vortex engine.”

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