The most surprising thing about the inaugural ARPA-E summit, held this week outside Washington D.C., is that the conference hall was full of losers. They were inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs who had applied for funding from the U.S. government’s exciting new energy-research organization but had been shot down.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy received 3,500 proposals, but only accepted 37. That leaves room for some compelling also-rans.
As a consolation prize, some of the most credible finalists got booth space in the exhibit hall. The most visible were those with ambitious plans for “kite power” — harnessing the powerful and consistent winds that blow high off the Earth’s deck.
Kite energy is way out there, both physically and in the public mindset, and it can be a hard sell, even to an agency like ARPA-E that funds risky projects. Who wants to put their money on the line for a four-rotor helicopter the size of a 747 that’s suspended several kilometers in the air?
WWe want a funding category and we want air space, so we can all play together,” said Len Shepard, CEO of Sky Windpower, creator of the giant helicopter-turbine.
Here’s a rundown of the models I saw:
Joby Energy: A Joby wind installation would look like a giant white ladder turning circles in the sky.
At each rung of the ladder are two small propellers that generate power as the ladder tugs against the wind at 400 meters up.
Tethering the device is a cable that serves two power functions: sending generated electricity to the ground, and if the wind goes slack, returning power to the props to help the device make a safe, helicopter-style landing.
The Joby team, made up of former students from the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology and Stanford, are now assembling a 100 kilowatt (KW) model and are hoping to create a 300 KW one soon.
Makani Power: Early on, Makani got the ultimate imprimatur of approval: $10 million in seed money from Google, followed by another $5 million since. But their design has been a mystery. That cleared up a bit this week as Makani displayed a giant red fiberglass prototype at its booth at the ARPA-E conference.
Makani’s kitewing will zoom though the sky in circles with propellers attached, much like Joby’s design. Founder Corwin Hardham said the company plans to develop a 100 Kw model in the next year and a half, and a one-megawatt model the year after that.
Sky Windpower: Unlike Joby or Makani, Sky Windpower’s approach is to launch a larger generator far higher in the sky — 6,000 to 27,000 feet up, said Shepard. Buffeted by winds of up to 300 miles an hour, it would stay in one place, more or less, governed by its tether and four rotors. Such high winds means the generator could be as large as a jet plane and could pump out 1 to 1.6 MW per unit.
Article by David Ferris appearing courtesy Matter Network.