Imagine a blimp, like the one you might have looked up at in awe when you were a kid. Now, imagine that blimp cut into a cylindrical shape, with a wind turbine in the middle.
It’s called the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), and it’s what Altaeros Energies imagines will be the future of wind energy. By wrapping a helium-filled shell around a conventional three-blade turbine and letting the device into the air with strong tethers, the company says in a press video that the turbine can reach altitudes up to two thousand feet above the ground.
CEO Ben Glass says in the video this means the turbine can capture winds that “are on average five to eight times as powerful as what you get near the ground.”
In addition to producing higher yields of energy, these turbines have environmental advantages over conventional land turbines. Altaeros’ turbine is mobile, limiting its footprint on the landscape. Also unlike land turbines, the airborne turbine’s design limits its threat to birds.
Altaeros is a startup formed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010, and they’re working with the Alaska Energy Authority to launch the turbine in Alaska for 18 months, at a cost of 1.3 million dollars. Altaeros isn’t the only company looking to develop and introduce a version of an airborne wind turbine, but they will be first, with the world’s first commercial airborne wind turbine.
In a state that leads the nation in wind energy production, innovative technology such as airborne turbines is starting to get the attention of Texas Tech University’s Wind Energy Institute. The college plans to keep up with such technology by vamping up their education and certification program.
Andy Swift, Associate Director of the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University, says companies such as Altaeros have a long way to go before they can commercially expand.
“It’s hard to know where it’s going to go,” Swift says. “But this is how things begin. You start small, and maybe something big will come of it.”
If the airborne turbine does expand on a commercial scale, the startup plans to bring affordable wind energy to the “furthest points on Earth,” powering remote communities, off-grid industries and disaster areas.