A wind energy company formed out of MIT has announced that it has demonstrated high altitude power production from an automated prototype of its airborne wind turbine. The company recently completed testing of a 35-ft 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, hit several key milestones. The AWT climbed up 350-ft high, produced power at altitude, and landed in an automated cycle. In addition, the prototype lifted a Southwest Skystream turbine to produce over twice the power at high altitude than generated on a conventional tower. The turbine was successfully transported and deployed into the air from a towable docking trailer.
The company is developing its first product to reduce energy costs by up to 65% by harnessing the stronger winds found over 1,000 ft and reducing installation time from weeks to days. In addition, it is designed to have almost 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.
“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,” explained Ben Glass, the inventor of the AWT and Altaeros Chief Executive Officer. “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 AWT uses a helium-filled, inflatable shell to ascend to higher altitudes where winds are more consistent and over five times stronger than those reached by traditional tower-mounted turbines. Strong tethers hold the AWT steady and send electricity down to the ground.
The lifting device is adapted from aerostats, industrial cousins of passenger blimps that for decades have lifted heavy communications and radar equipment into the air for long periods of time. Aerostats are rated to survive hurricane-level winds and have safety features that ensure a slow descent to the ground.
In December 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released draft guidelines for siting the new class of airborne wind systems under existing regulation. The company is currently seeking partners to join its effort to launch the first commercially-available high altitude wind turbine in the world.
Filed Under: News, Projects, Towers