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.

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