Retired scientist Louis Michaud has plans to generate tornadoes near power plants that could provide a 40% increase in the plants’ power output. If the concept works, it could dramatically cut down on the need for building new power plants, instead creating energy from the waste heat of existing plants.

Michaud is president of AVEtec Energy Corporation, a company based in Ontario. He has recently received a $30,000 grant from Ontario’s Center for Energy that will enable him to continue building larger prototypes of the tornado – or, what he calls “the atmospheric vortex engine” (or AVE, as in the name of the company). Michaud is also in the process of applying for a $3 million grant from Ontario’s Ministry of Innovation.

The vortex engine is a large cylindrical structure with an open top, and works similar to a fireplace and chimney. To create a tornado, warm air mixes with cold air. In Michaud’s set-up, the warm air comes from the waste heat of a coal plant – but heat could also conceivably come from the sun or other ambient heat source. Currently, the waste steam from power plants is cooled in towers that cost $20 million.