This innovative system, featuring a roundabout pathway with evenly spaced wing blades, bears no resemblance to a conventional “fan on a stick” wind turbine. Nonetheless, it has the potential to revolutionize renewable energy by significantly reducing the cost of wind power.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Airloom Energy based in Wyoming has recently emerged and secured $4 million in initial funding led by the Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund, which is supported by Bill Gates, Google’s new CEO[x], and a drastically different technological approach that completely changes the financial equation for wind farms.
Wind turbines, some of which are taller than the Eiffel Tower, have become colossal machines, among the largest in history. This trend of increasing size will continue as longer blades yield stronger energy output.
However, the sheer magnitude of these turbines leads to increased costs at every stage. Expenses related to materials, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, construction, and maintenance all skyrocket due to the lengthy blades, towering structures, and large generators needed to support them.
Airloom Energy’s approach aims to downsize and bring everything closer to the ground. The Airloom setup, with a capacity of 2.5 MW, uses multiple 25-meter (82-ft) poles to hold an oval-shaped track, upon which a series of 10-meter (33-ft) wing blades are attached, connected by a cable.
Similar to sailboats, which can utilize wind energy from any direction except forward or straight aft, these blades capture wind power as they move along the track. The track is strategically positioned to maximize wind capture with its long edge, while the short ends of the blades allow for directional changes facilitated by the other blades.
A power takeoff cable generates linear motion to drive the generator. Unlike traditional wind turbines that derive maximum torque from the tips of their blades and minimal torque from the sections near the hub, each blade in the Airloom system contributes to pulling the entire loop, creating two short breaks per revolution as the ends rotate.
As a result, a 2.5-MW Airloom track can be transported on a single truck and does not require the use of massive turbine tower cranes (or the emerging innovative climbing cranes). The components can be manufactured in relatively small factories using non-specialized materials, making the installation and maintenance processes simpler, cheaper, and safer.
For instance, compared to a typical turbine like the 2.5-MW-rated GE unit – comprising a 100-meter-diameter (328-ft) fan held by an 85-meter (279-ft) high hub on a tubular steel tower – Airlooms estimate that the wing track would cost less than 10%, or less than $225,000. Including land requirements and other factors, the projected total capital cost for a 20-MW wind farm would be less than $6 million, amounting to less than 25% of the conventional setup.
Furthermore, Airloom claims that its design would reduce the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) per kilowatt-hour for wind power to approximately one-third of the current cost, which is roughly 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, making it one of the most cost-effective forms of renewable energy.
An initial small-scale prototype is already under development.
Airloom anticipates that its design will be less visually intrusive compared to tall wind turbine towers, potentially making it suitable for a wider range of sites and reducing opposition from NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) advocates. The system can be horizontally scaled, allowing tracks to span miles, and its height can be adjusted to optimize any given location.
Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures stated in a press release, “For decades, the wind industry has reduced energy production costs by scaling up to larger turbines. While this has been incredibly successful in reducing overall costs, the current approach faces challenges in terms of siting and material costs. Airloom’s unique approach can solve both of these issues, enabling wind energy to open up new market opportunities that will further decrease costs. We look forward to what the future holds with [new CEO] Indigo [Rickner] at the helm. We are at the forefront of bringing this groundbreaking technology to market.”
With operational small-scale prototypes, Airloom will utilize its initial funding to demonstrate the viability of the technology using a 50-kilowatt test device, followed by commercialization and scaling.
We are interested to determine the capacity factor that these Wingtrack setups would achieve in a wind farm setting, in comparison to the average 35% capacity factor of onshore wind turbines in the United States. One might assume that being closer to the ground, the Airloom system could potentially miss out on harnessing the higher wind speeds.
Airloom also suggests that its concept could be applied offshore, where the best wind resources are predominantly located. This prospect is intriguing; however, it would likely require tall poles anchored into the seabed.
Nonetheless, in the end, energy generation is primarily driven by cost. If this device can generate energy at one-third the cost of a tall tower, the capacity factor becomes less crucial, while land resources become more accessible. We eagerly anticipate the progress of this idea, even though we expect progress to occur gradually. As we explore this concept further, we came across an interesting Glassdoor evaluation from an anonymous job applicant that mentions “numerous issues” with Airloom’s first prototype, which has been in development for seven years.
Sources: Airloom Energy via Excellent Recharge News, newatlas.com