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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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Alpha radiation
By dgingerich on 3/30/2012 12:00:48 PM , Rating: 2
There is a major way to fix this: alpha radiation.

Alpha radiation is a product of alpha decay. Basically, a radioactive element sheds 2 protons and 2 neutron, a helium nucleus, to become another element. Most fission reactor waste sheds this kind of radiation.

Couple this with beta radiation, which is basically an electron, putting one kind in one chamber and an alpha emitter in another chamber, shielded by lead with a conductive wire between them. The electrons would be slowed down and caught by the lead and carried over to the alpha emitter chamber, where the helium nucleus would pick them up, becoming full helium.

Harvest the electric current that is produced between them into batteries, and harvest the helium that is produced in that process. Then introduce the batteries into the power grid in a controlled way to increase our power production. This way, we harvest the energy emitted by nuclear waste, have extra electrical power, and have a steady supply of helium. Problems solved.

The tricky part is refining and separating the alpha and beta emitters from the nuclear waste in a safe manner. That could be a little tough, but not too tough. Introduce an acid into the nuclear waste that would dissolve one kind of element, drain off the resulting solution, wash it and then introduce another acid that will dissolve the other type. (It could be alpha first and beta later, or vice versa, whichever works better.) No need to melt it down. Another problem can be solved with this: the waste can then be recycled more easily and be put back into nuclear reactors.

Our nuclear reactors become the recycling center, with added efficiency, and become our supply for helium. No problem.

RE: Alpha radiation
By geddarkstorm on 3/30/2012 12:13:18 PM , Rating: 2
Hate to say it, but as ingenious as that idea may be, it's more realistic to hold out for nuclear fusion (fusing deuteriums to make helium) for producing helium than that method.

RE: Alpha radiation
By JediJeb on 3/31/2012 11:21:17 PM , Rating: 2
The worst part of the plan really is the separation of the waste products. It is not as simple as acid washing, or else Iran would already have tons of refined Uranium on hand. You can separate some metals from others by acid suitabilities but most will dissolve in multiple acids.

RE: Alpha radiation
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 11:31:58 PM , Rating: 2
Taking into account the amount of nuclear waste producing every year in a nuclear facility, and the slow decay rate of most radioactive isotopes, I would bet we're talking grams, or perhaps kilograms, of helium produced every year, while our needs would be more likely in the range of thousands of tons.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson
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