Sapping the energy out of wind usually involves wind turbines that stand between 27 and 94 meters from the earth's surface. Altaeros Energies thinks that’s not high enough to capture significant wind energy, so they’re looking to ‘float’ a newly designed wind turbine to new heights.
The energy company (created by former students from both MIT and Harvard) has designed a new prototype turbine that collects wind energy from altitudes at over 305 meters (~1000 ft) high where the wind is often stronger. Called the ‘Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine,' the renewable energy generator uses a helium filled shell composed of aerostats (same material used for passenger blimps) that houses a Southwest Skystream wind turbine in its center suspended by cabling. The whole inflatable structure is tethered by cables to the towable docking trailer that collects the energy for powering mobile diesel generators.
Turbine by Altaeros Energies
The company recently tested the AWT at an altitude of 106 meters (350 ft) where it produced twice the power of comparable size generators found on the ground. After which, it landed safely all through a successful automated cycle. The only problem I can foresee with this novel approach at harnessing wind energy is interference from low-flying airplanes, which limits where the AWT can be deployed. Other than that, it seems like an ingenious idea.
For those who have read helium is becoming scarce and now question Altaeros Energies' turbine usefulness for the planet, the company has released this statement: "Helium is found in natural gas deposits. Industry leader CryoGas International reported in Oct 2011: "substantial world helium reserves exist in North America, the Middle East, Africa and Russia and that these could sustain the helium industry for hundreds of years." Over time, prices will likely rise, but helium is less than 5% of the cost of an Airborne Wind Turbine, and this will not significantly impact the product cost."