Altaeros set to break world record with 1,000 foot-high floating wind turbine


April 6, 2014

The Buoyant Air Turbine, from Altaeros Energies

The Buoyant Air Turbine, from Altaeros Energies

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Winds are stronger and steadier at higher altitudes, that’s why the Buoyant Air Turbine (BAT) from Altaeros is pushing to be the highest wind turbine in history. Already tested to 500 feet off the ground in 45 mph winds, this helium-filled shell with a wind turbine in the middle is soon shooting for a world record 1,000 ft float. Packing down into a shipping container for transport, the BAT is being proposed as a quickly deployable tethered power source for remote areas and emergency zones.

Wind turbines on the tops of towers have a few disadvantages and attract criticism on several fronts. They take a long time to install, they make a bit of noise, they pose a threat to birds and some folks consider them a blight on the landscape, making them a bit of a "not in my backyard" proposition in certain areas.

More importantly, the towers aren’t high enough to take advantage of the strong, consistent wind you can get higher up. At 1,000 ft, for example, you can expect about five times more wind than you can at the top of a standard tower.

The Buoyant Air Turbine (BAT) from Altaeros is an inflatable helium shell with stabilizing fins and a turbine in the middle. Strong tethers anchor it to the ground and send the electricity down.

It’s designed to handle winds up to 100 mph in the air, and it’s not bothered by rain or snow. It’s got a secondary grounding tether to protect its electronics from lightning strikes, and it can be set to quietly return to its dock if weather gets too bad. If one of its three tethers breaks, it’ll automatically bring itself down as well.

The BAT can be transported in a shipping container, and deployed inside 24 hours, making it handy for emergency zones. It can be remotely monitored once it’s set up, but somebody does need to check it every now and then for tears, and top up the helium if required.

Of course, floating tethered wind generators have their own set of safety issues. Something this big floating in the sky on wires could easily get in the way of small aircraft, or find itself coming down to earth in inconvenient ways if something goes wrong, as Mike Barnard points out in his excellent Dodgy Wind piece from last year. But Altaeros Energies doesn’t appear to be pitching the BAT as anything but a remote or emergency zone generator, so it doesn’t raise any red flags.

The testing is being conducted in Alaska, we’ll keep you updated.

Source: Altaeros Energies

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Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade. All articles by Loz Blain

It will take a lot of precious helium to support the power cables on their own, not to mention all the rest of the paraphernalia. And for what? Something that is going to be next to useless when the wind is blowing hard.

What is the power cable going to feed into? A grid that is most likely the cause of the loss of power because it has been damaged by whatever caused the disaster in the first place? Really? Fix that and "Hey presto!" no need for this device anyway.

As mentioned in the article, these would be a hazard to light aircraft, such as rescue helicopters. How tragic to be saved from a collapsed building only to die because the helicopter carrying you to hospital flew into a poorly visible cable or mooring line.

Let's stick with the tried and tested diesel generators that are understood by relief workers, are comparatively cheap and can put the power exactly where it is needed. Not only that, they will not need to be taken out of action on a regular and frequent basis to be refilled with yet more precious helium.

Mel Tisdale

Most cities have TV / radio tower nearby, with similar heights and similar brace wires, so what is the basis for the safety fears of such a generator near urban areas? Tethers from could keep such a turbine anchored in one spot, and perhaps have dual function as a transmission tower, traffic monitoring, etc. Helium is sieved from natural gas. The USA is fortunate to have lots of new gas supply from shale, so helium availability is mostly one of storage and distribution costs. Helium leakage minimization should be a manageable problem. Conventional wind turbines loose scaleability at large sizes, because the tower cost gets too complex and are still far to short as this article notes. Tower-free wind ideas need to be completely analyzed, not abruptly dismissed.


this idea has been in development for the better part of a decade. google's project kite-power is similarly seeking to take advantage of a few hundred meters difference in altittude that accounts for substantial gap up in wind speed and continuity.

google and others have admitted as much that these devices cannot and will not revolutionize wind power , and are best develped for niche 'on-site' deployable power applications where building a fixed windmill base is impractical or impossible.

it is more likely than not that other power solutions arleady in existence or soon to be in the future, will render these 'floating' or 'gliding' windmills obsolete for niche emergency on site power.

in particular , for sites that cannot be resupplied easily, like the arctic, they will use solar power. for the few people residing in polar winters----they cannot afford to maintain a system that will frequently be having problems all of which must be handled in the dark, so using a fuel reserve is simply more practical.

it may sound crazy, but I think the best potential niche deployment of these is for an at sea ocean power station, tethered to a ship that is a mother ship.

the problem with energy scavenging from high power systems, is the system itself tends to destroy the harvesting machine , wehther we are talking about fast winds, extremely concentrated sun, or fast ocean currents........ too much power-------not good for machine.


This baby would have to be floated well beyond small arms fire range. It's just too tempting a target for a dipstick with a gun.


@ Mel Tisdale Helium can be harvested from the atmosphere at a reasonable cost it just costs more than getting it from natural gas.

"What is the power cable going to feed into?" "Let's stick with the tried and tested diesel generators" Pull your head out... fresh air is great.

The rescue helicopter crashing into the wire. 20 or 30 red lights would take car of that or better make the nonelectrical conductive portion of the tether out of optical fiberglass making the whole tether glow from only 1 or 2 lights.

When I was kid many decades ago and toy balloons were not required by law to rapidly decay helium balloons would float for at least a week and a half longer than they do now. In the case of disaster relief there is no reason to think that they would have to be serviced before enough of the predisaster grid is back up for it not to be a problem.


My question is why do we need to fill these floating wind turbines from our limited supplies of helium instead of easily-produced hydrogen? Its not like they have human crews on board that need to be protected from fire, and with all the technological advances since the Hindenburg disaster one would assume the risk of fire would be greatly reduced anyway without making them completely uneconomical.

Forward Thinker

@ Forward Thinker Hydrogen is even slipperier than Helium. and the supply of helium is not finite. While it would cost significantly more to extract helium from the atmosphere than it does to extract it from several natural gas fields and might price children's floaty balloons out of existence there is no danger of running out for industrial and medical purposes.

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