Altaeros Touts "Green" Helium Wind Turbine Amid Global Helium Shortage
March 30, 2012 7:51 AM
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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
(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 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
paints Altaeros as some sort of jedi messiahs,
, "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."
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]
Altaeros Energies [PDF]
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3/31/2012 10:55:25 PM
No problem. To have heard of this "in theory", you would likely have to be either a student on aeronautical engineering or an active researcher on this field.
That said, not being an engineer myself, I have pondered on this exact same point you speak of one or two decades back, and basically reached the same conclusions as you did.
So, I believe you are correct, and right to the point: the core of the problem is the structure must be rigid and strong enough to support a pressure gradient of ~1 atm without collapsing, yet be as light or lighter than an equivalent volume of hydrogen (or helium at least).
As to the material itself, my best guess in a foreseeable future would be some kind of carbon fiber for the rigid part of the structure (think of it as an endoskeleton), covered externally by a tightly-woven tissue composed mainly of thin, spiderweb-like organic fibers, and perhaps some kind of resin or plastic bath for the sake of impermeabilization.
On a (far) later time point, I'd hope for some kind of matter-repelling energy field, but that is just wild speculation on my part. :)
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