Don’t they know there’s a helium shortage?

Inflatable wind turbines that float thousands of feet above the ground could be the key to sustainable energy for the future, developers claim.

The helium filled ‘buoyant air turbine’ (BAT) is designed to harness energy from the strong wind currents higher up in the sky, transmitting it down cables attached to tethering ties. The tethers can automatically adjust the height of the turbine to catch the strongest winds.

Or maybe not.

9 comments on “Don’t they know there’s a helium shortage?

  1. I understand the attraction of a balloon, but someone proposed this with a gyro-kite. Take the rotor off a helicopter, attach a long wire to it, send it up to the Jet Stream, and hang a wind turbine off it – although carefully so it can’t shatter the rotor.

    The gyro-kite has a lot of advantages. Helium escapes. Turbulence plays hell with balloons.

    But all the problems are there too. What happens to a Malaysian airliner when it flies into the power cable it did not know was there?

    (If commenting was not so hard at Forbes I would correct some of the scientific illiteracy there too. Helium is not produced by uranium radiating hydrogen in fossil fuels. Most of it is produced by the decay of uranium or thorium through the emission of an alpha particle – a helium nucleus. This can be sped up if we so choose. That is what nuclear reactors are for. Although it would take a while to produce enough for a balloon. Tritium is not used in missiles. It is used in initiators for nuclear bombs, as well as in some thermo nuclear weapons.)

    Balloons are a small end user of helium. I am willing to bet that the oil industry uses more than all the party balloons in the world – through welding or deep sea divers.

    But working class children having fun is an abhorrence to some people.

  2. To quote/channel John Brignell of Numberwatch:

    Sing to the tune of “Gathering Nuts in May”:
    “So, tell us how much does the cable weigh,
    the cable weigh,
    the cable weigh,
    So, tell us how much does the cable weigh,
    Before we can calculate further.”

  3. They should just use Hydrogen, more lift too. Hydrogen and generating electricity, what could go wrong…

  4. abacab – “So, tell us how much does the cable weigh, Before we can calculate further.”

    Don’t say that. I am still dreaming of Tsiolkovsky’s giant Eiffel Tower. The only way to get into orbit is an elevator. Now you start talking numbers, and everyone will realise it is impractical.

    For their Power Blimp idea, steel and aluminium ought to be strong enough. The cable wouldn’t be that long. But it would be a little heavy I admit.

  5. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen balloons proposed as a “game changer” or a “paradigm shift” for mobile coverage, especially in rural areas.

    As with this proposal the proposers always end up skulking off when you start asking about out the practicalities: weight of cables, continuity of service in poor weather, maintenance down time etc. As for asking about the cost benefit analysis that usually has them looking baffled.

    Do they really think that if it was practical with current technology it wouldn’t have been done already?

    As for cable weight, a quick Google found that 150KV armoured cable weighs about 10kg/m. These things are going up to 2000ft, say 750m, which come in at 7,500kg. That’s a lot of weight before you even start on the turbines.

    PS I’m not sure what cable spec would be needed so just wen for something big.

  6. They can stuff the windwankery on the ground or in the air.

    Helium is abundant in the gas giant planets. However, before we can reach and exploit said planets we will need, here on Earth, to be rid of the many socialist, eco-freak “gas giants” that plague us with their rotten sulpher-dioxide bad-breath.

  7. Lemme get this straight…

    Rotating wings which is what a turbine is, produce thrust so in a strong wind current won’t try to fly away… I wonder how helicopters/jet engines work?

    Another care in the community failure.

  8. As abacab (and Brignell) point out these schemes (which pop up with metronomic inevitability) all founder on the weight of the cable. Also, since the back-reaction from drag on the floating turbine in one place is transmitted through the cable, it will take the form of a catenary which must rotate so that the plane containing it is aligned with wind direction. This puts a cylindrical volume possibly several kilometres wide and high completely off-limits to air navigation. Anyone proposing this stupid idea should be beaten with a length of high voltage cable.

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