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Altaeros Energies achieves breakthrough in high altitude wind power

09 May 2012

Altaeros Energies, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off, has demonstrated high altitude power production from an automated prototype of its airborne wind turbine (AWT). The company recently completed testing of a 35ft scale prototype of the AWT at the Loring Commerce Center in Limestone, Maine. The prototype, fabricated in partnership with Doyle Sailmakers of Salem, Massachusetts, achieved several key milestones, according to the company.

The AWT climbed to 350ft feet, produced power at altitude, and landed in an automated cycle. In addition, the prototype lifted the 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 has developed this product to reduce energy costs by up to 65 percent, by harnessing the stronger winds at altitudes in excess of 1,000 feet, 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.

“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 support the cables that transfer the generated electricity down to the ground.

The lifting technology 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.

Altaeros Energies is currently seeking partners to join its effort to launch the first commercially available, high altitude wind turbine in the world. For more information and to watch a video of the AWT prototype in action, click here.

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