MIT, Harvard Grads Develop High-Altitude Wind Turbine

Posted by NAW Staff on March 29, 2012 No Comments

Altaeros Energies, a Massachusetts-based wind energy company led by MIT and Harvard alumni, says it has demonstrated high-altitude power production from an automated prototype of its airborne wind turbine.

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 Salem, Mass.-based Doyle Sailmakers, achieved several key milestones.

The AWT climbed up 350 feet high, produced power at altitude, and landed in an automated cycle, Altaeros says. 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 transported and deployed into the air from a towable docking trailer.

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.

Over 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," explains Ben Glass, CEO of Altaeros. "We are excited to demonstrate that modern inflatable materials can lift wind turbines into more powerful winds almost everywhere."

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.

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