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Altaeros Energies, a wind energy company formed out of MIT, is planning to conduct the first commercial demonstration of a high altitude wind turbine in conjunction with the Alaska Energy Authority in a $1.3 million, 18-month project.
Altaeros Energies has created a 32-foot-wide inflatable wind turbine called the Buoyant Airborne Turbine that is inflated with helium and has been tested at altitudes over 300 feet. The BAT can rise to higher altitudes than tower-mounted wind turbines. In the demonstration, the BAT is expected to soar to a height of 1,000 feet in the air at a site south of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Winds are stronger and more consistent higher in the air, and can thus provide more energy. The BAT is designed to withstand strong winds. In a 2013 test, a prototype of the inflatable turbine withstood 45 mile per hour winds.
The inflatable turbine has high-strength tethers to hold it in place and cables that carry electricity to the ground. The BAT’s design is based heavily on that of aerostats, blimp-like inflatables that are frequently used to lift heavy communications equipment. Unlike past wind projects, the BAT can be transported and set up without large cranes, towers, or underground foundations.
The goal of the BAT project is to test the viability of the inflatable turbine as a power source for remote communities. It is expected to generate enough energy to power over a dozen homes. The company is seeking to provide an alternative to diesel generators.
The BAT is expected to rise 275 feet higher than the current highest wind turbine, the Vestas V164-8.0-MW.