You know where there’s a lot of wind that could be harvested for energy? The upper layers of the atmosphere, which contain as much as 870 terawatts of power — that’s 870 trillion watts! Researchers, startups and even some established players are getting serious about capturing that energy, and they’ll be gathering for a conference at Stanford at the end of this month.

wind power, airborne wind power, joby energy, makani power, renewable energy, sustainable design, space junk

The ideas are still in the germinating phase, to be sure, but atmospheric wind promises another significant advantage over down-to-earth approaches: less raw material needs to be used per watt of power, which translates into a lower cost per watt. Joby Energy, which hopes to launch a 500-kilowatt winged turbine next year, claims to be able to use just 20 tons of material per megawatt, compared to the conventional wind power industry average of 96 tons.

But there’s a catch: keeping these funky contraptions from becoming more space junk. Joby’s plan to tether propellers with a cord sounds a little low-tech for such an ambitious undertaking, and competitor Makini Power‘s glider wing proposal sounds pretty dubious, too. How about one of these balloons?

+ Joby Energy

+ Makini Power

Via Greentech Media

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