Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine Testing Complete

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Wind power may have taken a big leap skyward with the successful test of a new airborne turbine using blimp technology to reach powerful high-altitude winds.
   
Boston-based Altaeros Energies has announced that in testing, its 35-foot scale model of the Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) ascended 350 feet above the ground and produced high energy yield at that altitude.
   
The AWT system is a marriage of old world design and modern clean energy technology. The turbine cowling and inflatable shell, fabricated in partnership with a Massachusetts sail-making company, is filled with helium. The AWT is tethered by robust cables that also send electricity back to earth. The entire system can be packed up into a shipping container and deployed in a matter of days almost anywhere.
     
Brainchild of inventors Ben Glass and Adam Rein, the AWT won the 2011 ConocoPhillips Energy Prize for "seeking to hoist a wind-turbine up to 2000 feet aloft."
   
Although the idea of a massive wind turbine buffeted by the breeze like a kite may seem flimsy compared to a tower-mounted wind turbine system, Altaeros says it has based the AWT on "aerostats" – industrial blimps designed to lift heavy machinery and capable of withstanding hurricane winds.
   
The company claims that with further development, the AWT could cut energy costs by 65 percent by accessing powerful winds above 1000 feet. The company hopes the AWT system could replace generators in remote, off-grid areas and then, ultimately, into the offshore wind power 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," says Ben Glass, Altaeros Energies’ 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."
 
Altaeros isn’t the first to delve into the possibilities of airborne wind turbines and the use of blimps as platforms for renewable energy capture. A NASA project is looking into how to harvest wind resources at great heights. Solar Ship, already in production, is a blimp/plane hybrid with solar cells embedded in the blimp material.
 
There does appear to be an upper limit in terms of altitude where an airborne wind turbine will be viable. Last year, researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry said the assumption that high wind speeds in the jet stream (7-16km above the surface) correspond with high wind power are incorrect; but the jet stream is far above the altitude Altaeros appears to have its sights set on.