Trials have just been finished on a new kind of wind turbine — an inflated, helium shell containing traditional blades that floats in the air stream. The airborne turbine is designed to capture stronger, high-altitude winds to provide a clean, portable and power energy option.
In the recent tests held in Limestone, Maine, a 35-foot scale version of the turbine was shown to generate more than twice as much power at high altitude than generated at conventional tower heights.
The Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) is transported to its location by a towable, docking trailer. The AWT is then deployed — in this trial some 350 feet above the ground — and held in place by tethers which also send the electricity generated back to the ground. Raising, operating and lowering the turbine was successfully completed a in fully automated cycle
Now that successful trials have been completed, the manufacturer, Altaeros Energies, plans to scale up the technology to float turbines 1,000 feet off the ground where wind currents are over five times stronger and more consistent.
In addition to being more efficient, these new turbines are able to deploy with minimal set up and impact on the environment. This makes them perfect for just about any adaptation from civilian to military use.
The AWT was modeled after aerostats, which are essentially blimps that lift heavy equipment and keep them airborne over long periods of time. These industrial blimps can survive hurricane level winds and have built in safety features to control descent.
Between these aerostats and the promise of the emerging AWT technology, the FAA was moved to release draft guidelines in December 2011 to allow for the new class of airborne wind systems to be cited under existing regulations.
Altaeros Energies was founded in 2010 out of MIT and is currently looking for investors to help launch the first commercial versions of the prototype turbine.