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  (Source: Twitter)
Alternative power source might be a good idea if it wasn't for record helium shortages

Altaeros Energies is taking greenwashing to a new height with the debut of its bulbous helium filled Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT).  The company looks to replace one depletable resource that comes out of the ground (oil/coal) with another even scarcer resource that comes out of the ground (helium).

The company writes:

The company recently completed testing of a 35-foot scale prototype of the Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) at the Loring Commerce Center in Limestone, Maine. The prototype, fabricated in partnership with Doyle Sailmakers of Salem, Massachusetts, achieved several key milestones. The AWT climbed up 350 feet high, produced power at altitude, and landed in an automated cycle. In addition, the prototype lifted the top-selling Southwest Skystream turbine to produce over twice the power at high altitude than generated at conventional tower height. The turbine was successfully transported and deployed into the air from a towable docking trailer.

Altaeros is developing its first product to reduce energy costs by up to 65 percent by harnessing the stronger winds found over 1,000 feet high and reducing installation time from weeks to days. In addition, it is designed to have virtually no environmental or noise impact and to require minimal maintenance. The Altaeros AWT will displace expensive fuel used to power diesel generators at remote industrial, military, and village sites. In the long term, Altaeros plans to scale up the technology to reduce costs in the offshore wind market.

A glowing view by Inhabitat paints Altaeros as some sort of jedi messiahs, writing, "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 turbine
 The AWT -- a wonderfully non-green invention. [Image Source: Altaeros Energies]

Altaeros founder, CEO, and AWT inventor Ben Glass brags of his "levitating" turbines, "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.  We are excited to demonstrate that modern inflatable materials can lift wind turbines into more powerful winds almost everywhere—with a platform that is cost competitive and easy to setup from a shipping container."

The platform is built upon helium -- a scarce natural resource mined out of the ground.

Helium supplies are running so low that it is estimated it may run out within 30 years.  Aside from the environmental impact of drilling to extract helium from gas pockets in the Earth's crust, there's the issue that much of the most critical physics and chemistry research relies on helium.  The helium crunch has literally led to millions of dollars in lost productivity at research centers such as CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

But no worries.  Let's take the last of our helium and float it up in big blimps with wind turbines attached.  Clearly this deserves some sort of prize for intellectual excellence.

Floating upwards toward fail! [Image Source: Altaeros Energies]

Sources: Altaeros Energies [PDF], Inhabitat, CTV

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RE: shortage
By JasonMick on 3/30/2012 9:07:26 AM , Rating: 3
Well to be serious, this article is sensational.

Not really, it's a real issue, learn what you're talking about before you write such nonsense....

"Why the world is running out of helium"

Professor Richardson co-chaired an inquiry into the impending helium shortage convened by the influential US National Research Council, an arm of the US National Academy of Sciences. This report, which has just been published, recommends that the US Government should revisit and reconsider its policy of selling off the US national helium reserve.

"They couldn't sell it fast enough and the world price for helium gas is ridiculously cheap," Professor Richardson told a summer meeting of Nobel laureates from around the world at Lindau in Germany. "You might at first think it will be peculiarly an American topic because the sources of helium are primarily in the US but I assure you it matters of the rest of the world also," he said.

Professor Richardson believes the price for helium should rise by between 20- and 50-fold to make recycling more worthwhile. Nasa, for instance, makes no attempt to recycle the helium used to clean is rocket fuel tanks, one of the single biggest uses of the gas.

"Helium shortage not a gas as labs postpone 'optimal' work on grey matter"

Ray Dolan, a professor at UCL's Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, said that the college had stopped taking bookings for its scanner after its supplier, BOC, said it could not guarantee how much helium it could provide. "It is rendering programmes that are funded very, very problematic and there's great uncertainty," he said.

"Helium stocks run low – and party balloons are to blame"

Oleg Kirichek, the leader of a research team at the Isis neutron beam facility at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, had an unpleasant shock last week. One of his key experiments, designed to probe the structure of matter, had to be cancelled – because the facility had run out of helium.

The gas, used to cool atoms to around -270C to reduce their vibrations and make them easier to study, is now becoming worryingly scarce, said Kirichek. Research facilities probing the structure of matter, medical scanners and other advanced devices that use the gas may soon have to reduce operations or close because we are frittering away the world's limited supplies of helium on party balloons.

"It costs £30,000 a day to operate our neutron beams, but for three days we had no helium to run our experiments on those beams," said Kirichek. "In other words we wasted £90,000 because we couldn't get any helium. Yet we put the stuff into party balloons and let them float off into the upper atmosphere, or we use it to make our voices go squeaky for a laugh. It is very, very stupid. It makes me really angry."

"Helium shortage could deflate Valentine's Day sales"

Bennie Sparrow, owner of Balloons Above Orange in Hillsborough, said she has only one tank of helium to fill balloons for Valentine's Day next Tuesday. The tank can fill about 600 balloons, and she said she can get orders for up to 1,000 balloons for the holiday.

"There's just no way we can run a balloon business without helium," Sparrow said.

Very few of the display balloons in her store are filled with helium so she can conserve her limited supply for customer orders. She's also increased her prices in recent months to pass along the higher cost of helium.

If the helium supply situation doesn't improve, Sparrow said, it could put her and other small balloon stores out of business.

While it's true there may be some sort of terrestrial untapped sources (as with coal, oil, and natural gas, of course), the reality is that if there are such sources:

a) Extracting them will have a major environmental impact.

b) They will likely be harder/more expensive to extract than the U.S. source and other existing deposits.


a) Virtually any balloon design (this one almost certainly included) "bleeds" helium. Thus, this balloon would almost surely need refills to stay afloat.

b) Even space age balloons are fragile and prone to damage over a 5 year period, let alone the 30 year or more life of your average power plant.

c) Helium is extremely expensive.

Thus this design will almost certainly be orders of magnitude more expensive than traditional fossil fuel power, and arguably have a worse environmental impact in terms of research extraction, as well as having the peripheral effect of hindering scientific research.

So, again seriously what is the point? How can you defend this?

Now I know you fancy yourself far brighter than Nobel laureate researchers who are experts on this topic and economists, but if you're going to try to show how foolish they are, at least bring some serious evidence.

Do some reading before blowing hot air (pun intended).

RE: shortage
By mcnabney on 3/30/2012 9:39:02 AM , Rating: 2
Use hydrogen.

Problem solved

RE: shortage
By themelon on 3/30/2012 11:58:01 AM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen in a party balloon sure would make it more fun. A fireball instead of just a pop when you get it to close to the cake!

RE: shortage
By geddarkstorm on 3/30/2012 12:09:11 PM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen can't be used for everything. Liquid helium is used to cool the superconductive magnet in my lab. That's a temperature around 4 Kelvin, with a liquid nitrogen sheath to keep the helium from catastrophically boiling. But even if it did, the worst that would happen is someone could get knocked unconscious until the emergency fans turned on to drag oxygen back into the room.

Liquid hydrogen on the other hand is too hot to keep the magnet superconducting, with a temperature of 20 Kelvin. It is also basically rocket fuel, and so reactive (all it needs is 4% air, yes, AIR not pure oxygen, and a very small energy source to ignite) it cannot be used with this machine unless we wish to explode the entire biology department sky high, and that is not a joke.

Liquid hydrogen has to be handled very differently, and all air must be constantly kept away from it--something absolutely impossible for our equipment and experiments. And again, this is ignoring the fact liquid hydrogen is 10x hotter than liquid helium, and completely useless for what we do in the first place.

For many, many research applications, helium is irreplaceable. And we are indeed running out, which bodes ill for the research of my lab and others like it. That's why people like we see in this article need to switch to hydrogen gas, as you say, and stop wasting our precious helium.

RE: shortage
By abel2 on 3/30/2012 1:38:17 PM , Rating: 1
Last time I checked they didn't inflate balloons with liquid helium or liquid hydrogen. So I ask, what exactly is the point of your comment? Hydrogen is basically an infinite resource and needs to be utilized where it is deemed appropriate.

In an unmanned vehicle flying 1000 feet in the air around uncongested areas seems very appropriate to me. Plus, from looking at the picture, the actual turbine is so far away from the blimp that any leak would almost instantly be dissipated into the atmosphere. i.e. harmless. It would react instantly with atmospheric oxygen to form water.

Yes, the reaction produces heat, but there would not be enough hydrogen leaking out of this blimp to spontaneously combust.

RE: shortage
By JediJeb on 3/30/2012 2:17:57 PM , Rating: 2
Last time I checked they didn't inflate balloons with liquid helium or liquid hydrogen.

What you said makes sense except for this. It takes gaseous helium to make liquid helium, so in reality they are filling the balloons with the exact same thing.

In our lab, we have to use Helium because the EPA will not update their methods for chemical analysis to include the ability to switch from helium to hydrogen in the chromatographs. What is really sad is hydrogen works better but when used with a mass spectrometer it gives a slightly different mass signature, which can be standardized to compensate for yet the EPA forces us to use the mass signature that can only come from using helium. We could save thousands of dollars a year if we could switch from helium to hydrogen which could reduce the cost of testing everything from safe drinking water to hazardous waste, if only EPA would get off their duffs and ok the changes.

They did the same thing with freon, we had tests that required freon as a solvent, then they outlawed freon before they found a replacement in the testing procedures. We were spending $500 for freon on what we had been charging $15 per test before the ban. Plus the EPA would not forgo the requirement for that test so we had waste water plants and drinking water plants that had to bear the extra cost for a year until EPA approved hexane as a replacement.

RE: shortage
By Reclaimer77 on 3/30/2012 6:41:03 PM , Rating: 1
We were spending $500 for freon on what we had been charging $15 per test before the ban.

Have you bought R-22 lately? It's hitting $100/per pound! Thanks Obama and the EPA! I love paying 4 times more than before to get my AC serviced.

RE: shortage
By Ringold on 3/30/2012 8:43:41 PM , Rating: 2
Apply all those same bureaucratic problems to health care, and every other program, and.. its obvious to same why "less is more" seems a good idea to some. Other people though see no problem with such bottlenecks and inherent inefficiencies.

Indeed, you illustrate an absolutely perfect example of why central planners can NEVER possibly know how individual actors should go about their business better than those individuals do themselves.

RE: shortage
By wiz220 on 3/30/2012 4:06:00 PM , Rating: 4

I think he might have been referring to the fact that your article, while providing many true and factual statements, was also unnecessarily sarcastic and unprofessional.

RE: shortage
By TSS on 3/31/2012 11:13:26 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sorry but it's necessary to ridicule stupidity when it is so obvious. Ohterwise somebody might get the idea that stupidity is actually acceptable.

And considering the links jason linked i doubt the research into the story was any less then professional then other news outlets would've done. In fact, i'd rate it much higher compared to the articles i read on CNN on a regular basis.

And professional does not mean "unbiased". It means "honest". As you are always dealing with humans, you're always dealing with oppinions, wether it's a company or a personal oppinion. Usually honest includes unbiased. But in this case, it's honestly stupid, thus more professional to ridicule said stupidity.

Or would you'd rather have a CNN article about this that glorifies the "green" aspect, because the company said it was green?

RE: shortage
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 11:37:59 PM , Rating: 2
Helium shortage not a gas

Helium shortage could deflate Valentine's Day

bad puns anyone?

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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