A little known start-up company has developed an aircraft that harnesses energy from gusting winds more efficiently than conventional wind turbines.
Makani Power's Airborne Wind Turbine was one of the more unconventional prototypes exhibited at the recent ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. But if the company can get the technology beyond the concept stage and into production, it has the potential to really take off.
At first glance, the contraption bears a stronger resemblance to a model airplane than a power generator, and to a degree, is mechanically designed to fly like one too. The wind-spun rotor blades are used not only to power the the aircraft's engine, but also to collect energy whenever the wind kicks up. The harvested energy is transferred to a ground station through a power cable that also functions to tether the aircraft.
Although pint-sized compared to the power turbines you see at wind farms, the Airborne Wind Turbine one-ups them in that it can produce electricity during periods of slower wind and also does it more efficiently. According to a report on InnovationNewsDaily, the turbine system can start generating electricity at a wind speeds of 20 mph and can convert about 60 percent of it in electricity. Standard wind turbines require at minimum 24 mph winds to go into power producing mode and with a conversion rate of 30 percent. The lightweight design also reduces costs and gives it a boost in energy production.
The company, which received $5 million in funding from Google, hopes to scale up the technology beyond the the smaller models by improving upon the aircraft's aerodynamics.
Here's a video demonstrating how the Airborne Wind Turbine works:
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