Floating wind turbines to produce low cost renewable energy


March 28, 2012

Altaeros Energies have created a floating wind turbine that produces low cost, renewable energy

Altaeros Energies have created a floating wind turbine that produces low cost, renewable energy

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Altaeros Energies has announced the first testing of its Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) prototype that resembles a sort of blimp windmill. The test took place at the Loring Commerce Center in Limestone, Maine, USA where the AWT floated 350 feet (107 meters) into the sky and successfully produced power, before coming back to earth in a controlled landing. The turbine was deployed into the air from a towable docking trailer, while demonstrating that it can produce over twice the power at high altitudes than generated at conventional tower height. There are hopes to energy costs can be reduced by up to 65 percent by harnessing stronger winds that occur at and above an altitude of 1,000 feet (305 meters).

"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, Chief Executive Officer of Altaeros, a company led by alumni of Harvard and MIT. "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 features an inflatable shell that is filled with helium, allowing it to float to higher altitudes where winds are often five times more powerful than those closer to the earth’s surface. The employment technology has been inspired by aerostats, the industrial cousins of the well-known blimp, that commonly raise heavy communications and radar equipment into the air. Traditionally aerostats have survived hurricane-level winds and employ safety features that ensure a slow descent to the ground.

The AWT prototype, which has been developed in partnership with Doyle Sailmakers of Salem, Massachusetts, has been designed to have little impact on the environment while creating minimal noise pollution. When deployed, it's claimed that the AWT requires minimal maintenance and will displace expensive fuel used to power diesel generators at remote industrial, military, and village sites.

Source: Altaeros Energies

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Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

One thing the article doesn't mention is that, by the very nature of a tethered, floating wind turbine, dozens could be floated up on the same tether, providing orders of magnitude more power at a smaller ground footprint than even small wind turbines.

This could easily start a revolution in localized power generation. By nature of the technology, we can't place these much closer together than the added lengths of their tethers, but again, the ability to tether multiple ones together high up into the sky negates that disadvantage several times, and naturally means that the ground tether point could fit into the space of an average backyard. Entire communities could be powered just from a few "stacks" of these airborne generators. Also, because of the high visibility of the generators themselves, they're unlikely to cause problems with migrant bird populations. But, if problems do arise, it wouldn't be too difficult to put a more visible mesh in front of the prop.

These can even be placed out in the ocean with fewer consequences and lower cost than those ocean-based turbines.


that doesn't look like it'd be very efficient. I think something like this would be much better.

And in either case... with the development of thin/flexible/spray-on "solar cells" when they become fully/commercially available you could coat the outter shell of these with that, so that they are producing wind/solar power at the same time from one unit.


Man, there are a lot of trendy, science-ignorant hippie investors out there continuing to burn their money on this fluff. It is probably a great way to impress hippie chicks though.

Guys, alt-counterculture was cool in poetry and music in the sixties. But you can't do it with power generation. It has to actually generate power.

Todd Dunning

Helium? Why?

The people in Germany made perfectly good vehicles that used hydrogen.

They were safe and impervious to combustion - except when the captain did a turn that exceeded the hulls designed stress limits, broke a truss wire that slices open a gas cell, and the leak was ignited by static.

I think nice land based solar concentrators are the go....

Mr Stiffy

I wonder how much of the electricity produced would be required to provide enough hydrogen to keep the "balloon" inflated.


Oh dear! So Helium is free these days, or what? Helium is rare and it is getting rarer by the minute. We need it for supercooling MRIs and other life saving devices. We can not afford loosing it to thousands of blimps for turbines (which are loosing helium at an alarming rate). So I really dont think that this is a good idea. If they used hydrogen, maybe... It is yet another "high flying" green idea that I doubt will ever "take off" ;)


If these can get twice the effect of land based ones then there are other technical advances that can help.

doesn't a version of ultra thin graphene stop helium 100%?? This is perfect for that.

One guy designed a turbine shroud based on the whale sharks mouth that seriously reduced drag and improved generator speeds. If these can be placed out to sea in turbine fields or over farmers fields so they generate an income for the farmer then this is a better idea.

One negative is that the increased fan speed and height will kill a lot more birds unless the tethered height is quite high. Landbased windmills have relative slow speeds turbines are smaller but operate much faster.

As for using hydrogen.. hydrogen explodes and the balloon falls to earth in a fireball. Helium leaks out and then the balloon falls to earth slowly.

Helium doesn't get used up its recyclable. It's the tech using liquid helium to cool superconductors that is 'using' up all the helium. I'm OK with CERN doing that but the people trying to make fusion work are wasting their time. Of course if they do get it running there's your new source of helium..

Karsten Evans

BTW: The USA has the only Helium well in the World in Texas...

Solar (of all flavors) is now on the move and I expect that the traditional Energy Companies and especially the Nuclear Industry will fight tooth and nail to "keep Solar in it's place" a tiny fraction of the total...

Solar (of all flavors ) is ready for prime time, unless the Nuclear Fascists* stop it from happening!

Benefits of Solar (of all flavors): ✔ Less costly to build ✔ ZERO RISK OF A MELTDOWN ✔ No Trillion Dollar Eco-Disasters ✔ Faster to construct ✔ CLEAN from start to finsh. ✔ No radiation worries or leaks ✔ No foreign dependency ✔ Prices dropping yearly ✔ Creates green jobs ✔ No nuclear cleanup expenses

Read one or more of these, to learn how Solar (especially Solar from Space) can power the Planet and put a stop to Warfare over energy and minerals:

The High Frontier by Gerard K. O'Neill, Colonies In Space by A. Heppenheim­er. The Third Industrial Revolution G. Harry Stine The Space Enterprise by Philip Robert Harris


If razing mountaintops for noisy unsightly wind turbines is a good idea, then this is a much better idea. I like how it can be portable and deployed where needed. Helium is found in natural gas, mostly in the USA. It can also be a byproduct of Thorium fission reactors LFTR MSR, which we are shamefully late to develop and deploy. Solutions to our energy problems must be taken as a spectrum that reenforce each other. Hydrogen would be a very bad choice for this -- it is hard to contain, and it goes boom. Helium could also be recycled. It is primarily keeping it from leaking that is important for this aspect.

Dennis Brown

@ Karsten Evans

Birds.... come on, lets get real, that is hardly a problem. Birds aren't going to just go flying into a realatively stationairy object. Its not a like a plane that is fast moving, always in a different location.

Hydrogen doesn't just explode on its own, it has to have a cause. And that is hardly a problem we need to worry about. It would most likely be rare in the first place which is good (financially) but we're not talking about a blimp, there would be no people to get injured. If such a device exploded/lit on fire, it would be out by the time it hit the ground.

Helium can be recycleable in certain conditions, but you can't capture it from the atmosphere (because its too expensive) and yes helium does run out. It is deffinately one of the more limited resources available on this planet, and the supply is only further running out.


re; CaptD

You forgot only stored power at night and reduced power with clouds. I am perfectly happy to see solar collectors on roofs, built over parking lots, and wouldn't loose my cool at the delays caused by the construction to put them over public roads but killing the native vegetation to put up solar collectors annoys the h3ll out of me.


Helium 3 can be manufactured by bombarding lithium with neutrons and then waiting. Personally I would run the Tritium through a fuel cell so that I had a tank of heavy heavy water to hang onto while the tritium decays into helium 3.


It's a brilliant idea! They can control altitudes anytime to looking for the strong winds. As you see, they have to reduce the vibration to install Flying Wind Turbines made with massive balloon in the air. Because, it makes many kinds of problems! Air and water Science are based on the same physics theory. It's Hydromechanics. The vibration’s caused by wind and external forces. New Floating Body Stabilizer for Floating Wind Turbines has been created in South Korea. They need this Idea. The Floating Body Stabilizers generate drag force immediately when Floating Wind Turbines are being rolled and pitched on the water. Recently, this Floating Body Stabilizer’s using to reduce the Vibration of Floating Solar Panels in South Korea. You can see New Floating Body Stabilizer videos in YouTube., Flying Wind Turbines have to solve the vibration problems! Anyways, very interesting. Thanks.

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