Decoding Design

A design concept to solve the challenges of transporting wind turbines

A design concept to solve the challenges of transporting wind turbines

Posting in Design

Wind turbines can be cumbersome and expensive to transport. Two Danish designers are winning awards for their daring idea to solve this problem: ultra-sleek, solar-powered dirigibles

Manufacturers of wind turbines and their components are challenged with figuring out how to transport the gigantic structures efficiently. Turbine blades can reach up to 260 feet in length, translating into large, heavy, and expensive cargo loads. Parts must be carried on a variety of trucks, trains, and ships from factories to installation sites. So the act of transporting wind turbines presents necessary situations that aren't quite eco-friendly, in terms of carbon footprints. But an ambitious conceptual project by two young Danish designers, Mads Thomsen and Rune Kirt, is winning awards and gaining attention for its elegant, sustainable, although theoretical solution to the wind-turbine-transportation problem. Their proposal? Use dirigibles powered by solar energy.

The duo has designed the plans for a sleek airship that has the smooth, delicate curves of a river stone, but which can be engineered to carry up to 1,000 tons of wind turbine parts. After conducting ongoing interviews with pilots, engineers, and cargo loading managers, as well as research into the practices of dirigible producers and operators, among other sources, they came up with the following design strategy for their airship:

  • The form of the airship should look non-threatening, yet professional, as it is a new concept for wind-turbine transportation
  • The aerodynamic hull should have a flat underbelly that opens toward the ground to allow wind turbine parts to be lifted easily into the cargo area
  • The structure should be flexible to accommodate different large turbine components

Here's a video of how the designers envision how their airship would look and work, along with some additional background on Thomsen and Kirt's research:

Most recently, Thomsen and Kirt received an inaugural Core77 Design Award last week, given by the respected design-world Web site Core77, in the category of Specultive Objects/Concepts. The judges in this category included such luminaries as Branko Lukic, author and founder of Nonobject Design & Innovation Studio, and Banny Banerjee, founder of Stanford University's Design for Change Lab. The jury collectively issued a statement about Thomsen and Kirt's idea, in which they likened the concept to a "new paradigm" and said that the proposal "was highly visionary, spoke to a very real issue, and demonstrated brilliant execution."

The concept, which Thomsen and Kirt call the Knarr Cargo Airship, is also currently a finalist for the 2011 Index Awards, an honor given by Index, a Danish non-profit that recognizes international design created to improve the lives of people around the globe. Winners will be announced in early September. In 2009, Thomsen and Kirt won the Danish Design Centre's Special Prize during Copenhagen Design Week for the Knarr Cargo Airship, chosen by a jury that included internationally renowned designers Ross Lovegrove and Jens Martin Skibsted.

Although the Knarr Cargo Airship is far from becoming a reality any time soon, as a concept it is clearly causing many of the world's top thinkers in the field of design to pay attention to not only Thomsen and Kirt's work, but also the challenges that wind turbine manufacturers face and how designers could possibly help solve them.

Photo: Project Knarr

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure