Power a City with Tornados? Latest Grants Announced by Thiel Foundation's Breakout Labs Includes an Unusual Twist

Canadian company, AVEtec, plans proof-of-concept test to extract energy from a man-made, controlled tornado

San Francisco - December 13, 2012 - The Thiel Foundation announced today three new grants awarded through Breakout Labs, its revolutionary revolving fund to promote innovation in science and technology. The most recent award takes the program into clean energy, with a bold new proposal to harness the power of atmospheric vortexes.

AVEtec is the brainchild of Canadian engineer, Louis Michaud. His Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) harnesses the physics of tornados to produce extremely cheap and clean energy. In his design, warm or humid air is introduced into a circular station, where it takes the form of a rising vortex, i.e. a controlled tornado. The temperature difference between this heated air and the atmosphere above it supports the vortex and drives multiple turbines. The vortex can be shut down at any time by turning off the source of warm air.

Among its advantages over other sources of energy, AVE power generation neither produces carbon emissions nor needs energy storage. AVEtec projects that the cost of the energy it generates could be as low as 3 cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the least expensive forms of energy production. An AVE power station could have a diameter of 100 meters and generate 200 megawatts of electrical power, the same order of magnitude as conventional coal power stations.

"The power in a tornado is undisputed," said Louis Michaud. "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."

Additional Breakout Labs grants were also recently awarded to General Genomics and Siva Therapeutics. General Genomics uses ancestral DNA sequence reconstruction to radically improve the efficiency with which protein- and peptide-based therapeutics, as well as industrially-relevant enzymes, can be developed. Siva Therapeutics is developing therapies with the potential to be more effective, safer, less expensive, and less invasive by exploiting the biophysical properties of gold nanorods engineered to capture infrared light and emit heat that destroys diseased tissue.

"Our three newest grant recipients-AVEtec, General Genomics, and Siva Therapeutics-are vastly different in their technologies, company strategies, and goals," said Breakout Labs Executive Director, Lindy Fishburne. "What unites them is ground-breaking science coupled with the passion, vision, and creativity of their founders. We are delighted to bring them into the Breakout Labs community."

Launched in November 2011, Breakout Labs provides early-stage companies with the means to pursue their most radical goals in science and technology. To date Breakout Labs has awarded a total of twelve grants of up to $350,000 each. Breakout Labs accepts and funds proposals on a rolling basis.

Previous grants, announced earlier in the year, have been awarded to companies working on cultured meat, biomarker detection, brain reconstruction, reversible cryopreservation, human cell re-engineering, universal airborne contaminant detection, artificial protein therapeutics, and antimatter-based fuel. A summary of the 2012 Breakout Labs grant recipients is available at: https://www.breakoutlabs.org/recipients.html

"The world faces enormous challenges-resource scarcity, aging populations, economic mismanagement-and we need more visionary scientists and engineers like those at Breakout Labs making authentic discoveries and bringing world-changing products to market," said Thiel Foundation president Jonathan Cain. "We hope Breakout Labs inspires more investors to fund real innovation; more young people to pursue technology and entrepreneurship; and more nonprofits to foster risky, radical ideas."

ABOUT BREAKOUT LABS Breakout Labs, the newest program of the Thiel Foundation, does not make typical foundation grants-it is a revolutionary, revolving funding model through which successful projects fund the next generation of daring scientific exploration. Breakout Labs is reshaping the way early-stage science is funded, by providing support for young companies to advance their most radical ideas. Successful grantees will return a modest royalty and warrant stake to Breakout Labs and in this way, contribute to the next generation of scientific innovation. For more information, see www.BreakoutLabs.org.


The Thiel Foundation defends and promotes freedom in all its dimensions: political, personal, and economic. The Thiel Foundation supports innovative scientific research and new technologies that empower people to improve their lives, champions organizations and individuals who expose human rights abuses and authoritarianism in all its guises, and encourages the exploration of new ideas and new spaces where people can be less reliant on government and where freedom can flourish. For more information, see www.ThielFoundation.org.

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