> Wind Power Anywhere
> Fred Ferguson, is founder and CTO of Magenn Power Inc., and the
> of Magenn Power's high altitude wind turbine, the Magenn Air Rotor
> or MARS. MARS is a lighter-than-air tethered wind turbine that
> energy is transferred down the 1000-foot tether for immediate use,
or to a set
> of batteries for later use, or to the power grid.
> Fred, who was recently featured on the Discovery Channel's Project
> will describe MARS as a Wind Power Anywhere™ solution and its
> over existing conventional wind turbines and diesel based energy
> systems. If time permits, Fred will also talk about his incubator
> that prototypes new energy and advanced technology inventions,
> advanced airships and an underwater version of the Magenn type of
Fred began by explaining that he is a
descendant of Samuel Morse, the
guy that invented Morse Code, who probably gave him the inventive
genes. He started in technology working on printer technology for the
newspaper publishing industry. He left that industry upon his success
of designing and developing an automated pre-press system to help
the newspaper industry. From this he pursued an ambition to broaden his
scope into commercial development of technologies on an global scale.
Since then he has worked on lighter
than air craft of various types,
something that has taken about thirty years so far. For the Star
Wars project back in the '80s he developed a series of high altitude
geostationary observation blimps. Walrus airships for Lockheed were an
off-shoot of that. Since then he's done some work on cargo blimps.
Making something a cost effective transportation system is a big
challenge, because nobody wants to pay more to do something they can
already do for a reasonable price. So far they haven't designed a blimp
that will really move cargo cheaply.
Fred came across some information about
California's brown outs waiting
in a dentist's office about half a dozen years ago. He started thinking
about how to get power from a tethered airship, and has since developed
the magenn airships to do exactly that. He showed us pictures of the
things. They're symmetrical blimps with three vanes running the length
of the body to scoop air that are tethered from both ends so they can
rotate around the axle. The tether has vanes on it to orient the
rotating balloon into the wind. Fred explained that the tether should
be about 1000 feet long, because the winds are much more constant that
high up. The thing should be filled with Helium, and big enough to
support all that cable and the generator. The smallest Magenn Rotors
such as the one in the picture is at least 18 feet in diameter,
and the largest over 100 feet or longer than that.
The technology scales well. The price
sheet shows models ranging from 4
to 1600 kW in size. Fred explained that they have done quite a bit of
prototyping and wind tunnel testing. The company is currently building
a larger test unit (100 kW) at Moffett Field. He expects to be selling
units as powerful as the largest windmills for about half the price
starting late next year (2011). For more information please visit
During Q&A the following came up:
Good applications for the technology
are places where wiring to the
grid is cost prohibitive. In South Africa there are lots of mines that
are currently powered by generators, and the $5/gal. fuel gets
expensive after a while. A Magenn system can bring that down a lot.
Another application is villages in India that are far from the power
grid there. A local grid running on power from a Magenn system would be
MUCH cheaper to install. India has about 100,000 such villages right
Balloon tethering technology is mature.
We have been doing it since the
Civil War, when observation balloons were one of the first uses of the
technology. No significant R&D expense was required in that area.
Helium in the balloons is expected to
diffuse out at about a half a
percent per month. Helium scrubbing is needed every six months or so to
maintain buoyancy. A Helium charge should last about 16 years.
If the technology is successful there
will be issues with Helium
supply. However, in a lot of the world "Hydrogen" is not a bad word for
airship buoyancy the way it is in the USA. Hydrogen would work, and can
be made on the spot very cost effectively. Much of the world isn't
bothered by the Hydrogen risks the way Americans are.
Fred would love to make a backpack
portable unit that could be
parachuted into disaster zones and deployed to provide power for
communications or whatever. In Iraq U.S. contractors have to pay
$100/Gallon for generator fuel. That makes these generators very
Similar kinds of rotors can be used to
get power from tidal currents in
sea water that are moving as slowly as one mile per hour.