2011

NASA Engineer Finds Answer to Green Energy in the Air

Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer focusing on advanced concepts in the Systems Analysis Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA), is using a grant from the federal government to research airborne wind-capturing platforms. His concepts include long nanotubes that reach into the clouds, tethering a turbine vehicle flying at 2,000, 10,000, or 30,000 feet; and conducting the power that vehicle can harvest from the wind back to Earth.

alt“Airspace is a commodity,” Moore said. “You have to be able to use airspace without disrupting it for other players. Larger airplanes — you can’t expect them to fly around every wind turbine that has a two-mile radius as a protected flight zone.” It’s an issue when considering airborne power generation that deserves consideration in a mix that includes solar power, ground-based wind turbines, algae, and other solutions.

Tethers for airborne wind generation assets don’t require a lot of ground space, nor are they labor intensive. And they don’t pollute. At 2,000 feet, there is two to three times the wind velocity compared to ground level, according to Moore. Send turbines farther aloft, into the 150-mph jet stream at 30,000 feet, and instead of 500 Watts per meter for ground-based wind turbines, one can achieve about 20,000 or 40,000 Watts per square meter.

The wind turbine study, he maintains, should be two studies. One involves the technology and geography, and the other involves the interaction between those elements and other competitors for airspace. That means dealing with current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. “Offshore deployment of these airborne systems probably makes the most sense in terms of both airspace and land use, because there is little to no demand for low-altitude flight over oceans 12 miles offshore,” Moore said.

“We’ve shown in the past that NASA’s expertise can help broker and bring an understanding to the FAA as to how these technologies can map into constructive purposes,” said Moore. “They welcome this study because they’ve never dealt with flying systems and NASA has.”

For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/capturingwind.html.