Mark Boyer

Altaeros Energies' Floating Wind Turbines Tap Into Strong High Altitude Winds

by , 03/28/12
filed under: News, Wind Power

Altaeros Energies, Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine, MIT, wind power, wind energy, high altitude wind turbine

In an effort to harness strong high-altitude winds, the company Altaeros Energies has developed a floating wind turbine that’s a cross between a traditional windmill and a blimp. After some successful tests, the Altaeros team is confident that this new levitating wind turbine will be a viable clean energy option for remote villages and military sites.

Altaeros Energies, Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine, MIT, wind power, wind energy, high altitude wind turbine

The design of the Altaeros’ Airborne Wind Turbine is pretty simple. An inflatable, helium-filled shell lifts it off the ground to high altitudes, where winds are much stronger than at ground level. The airborne turbines are held steady by strong tethers, which send electricity generated by the turbine back down to the ground.

“For decades, wind turbines have required cranes and huge towers to lift a few hundred feet off the ground where winds can be slow and gusty,” said Airborne Wind Turbine inventor Ben Glass in a release. At higher altitudes, not only are winds more than five times stronger, but they’re also more consistent.

Altaeros Energies was founded in 2010 by MIT and Harvard alums. Earlier this year, the team completed testing of a 35-foot scale prototype of the Airborne Wind Turbine in Limestone, Maine. There, the floating turbine climbed to 350 feet off the ground, generated power, and landed in an automated cycle. According to a press release, the prototype produced more than twice as much power at high altitude than generated at conventional tower height.

There are of course other benefits to having a wind turbine that floats high above the ground. For one, it produces very little noise, and it requires little maintenance (and what maintenance it does require can be done at ground level). Additionally, the inflatable shroud covering the wind turbine blocks the spinning blades from being visible to nearby communities.

Images © Altaeros Energies

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13 Comments

  1. David John December 5, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    This is a good idea. Now you’ve eliminated the steel pole and all it takes is the neoprene balloon shroud,the generator motor and blade assembly. There can be no reason why they can’t dedicate some large factory somewhere to stamp out millions of these in a year. Hall them out to sea, anchor them to small barges in vast arrays. NOW and TODAY!..Run the electricity back to shore with ocean bottom cables. How really difficult is that as a project compared to the immense construction feats the human race has performed to date. And now you can start counting and wondering from the time I write this until the time you die why you never saw anything more about it until you come back to this link and see this same story hidden on this little web page, unchanged year after year. Where can we buy these assembled or in parts? I’m going to have to start doing this myself. I’m sick of reading about it out here year after year.

  2. vinay kumar pandey November 10, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    Can it not be fitted to an air plane to reduce some of its energy requirement?

  3. Zeppflyer May 19, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    @ wolf:

    There are two reasons that there are not solar panels on this one. First, it is a prototype, so they just want to test the turbine part by itself. Second, solar panels weigh a good bit. It would require a larger gas bag to hold them up which would lead to extra expense and complications.

    Furthermore, these will not be flying high enough to get them above the clouds, so there is no real advantage to placing panels on them, rather than on the ground below them, if they are in a good area for solar power.

    As to batteries, if they are tied into the grid, there would not be a battery. If they are being used in a remote area for emergency power, they’d certainly be on the ground there as well.

  4. wolf_5963 May 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Seems half thought out to me. Why not collect solar energy at the same time with the new flexible solar panels. I hope the battery is on the ground.

  5. uzidon April 18, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Don’t know much about it but I think we can live with it if they make them good-looking and not an eyesore. :P

  6. euroflycars March 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    @lodhz: the threat to aircraft isn’t so much to bump into the blimp as to get entangled with its tethers. No wonder this system originates from the state-owned MIT, knowing that the US government is seeking by all means to obstruct the forthcoming boom of General Aviation likely to be triggered by the recent record performances of electric aircraft — as witnessed by the latest attempt by president Obama to curb airborne individual freedom of movement with a $100 tax for each flight of GA aircraft!

  7. lodhz March 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    @Egalitare thanks. Wouldn’t this then be an obstruction in the airspace for low flying aircraft? The area has to be a designated one and the potential hazard of an aircraft flying into one of these is something to consider.

    Nevertheless, I like the concept of harnessing high altitude wind power.

  8. Zeppflyer March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    @Audigaudi: We are running out as the government sells off its stockpiles at ridiculously low prices. For this project, though, hydrogen would work just fine. Even leaving aside our overblown, Hindenburg-induced fears, there’s no reason that an unmanned balloon like this couldn’t be sent up with it.

    I can’t speak to efficiency numbers, but from a KISS standpoint, I like this better than other designs out there which use the entire gas envelope as a rotor. This would likely use more off-the-shelf components and have less stress on the gasbag and thus less wear and leakage than a moving one.

    Frankly, I think this would look pretty cool, rather than be an eyesore, but to each his own.

  9. audigaudi March 29, 2012 at 10:59 am

    I love this idea … but aren’t we almost out of helium?

  10. Em709 March 29, 2012 at 10:27 am

    For military site, also consider the inclusion of ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) systems.

  11. cyoti March 29, 2012 at 1:24 am

    The shroud might hide the blades… but nearby communities can still the shroud. There’s still an eyesore to be dealt with.

    But imagine that these things are moved, say every 6 months, so that communities have some free time with uncluttered airspace. Much easier than with conventional static wind turbines.

  12. Egalitare March 28, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    The altitude at which the lower boundary of virtually constant wind flow varies by location. In some places it’s as low as 600 feet, but when I’ve read about other variations on airborne wind designs and prototypes, I’ve seen them planned and designed for above 1500 feet.

  13. lodhz March 28, 2012 at 5:06 am

    How high is the altitude at which the floating turbine is held at for it to be productive?

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