> Fred Ferguson                                                                                                                   
> Wind Power Anywhere
> Fred Ferguson, is founder and CTO of Magenn Power Inc., and the inventor
> of Magenn Power's high altitude wind turbine, the Magenn Air Rotor System
> or MARS. MARS is a lighter-than-air tethered wind turbine that rotates about
> 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 Earth series,
> will describe MARS as a Wind Power Anywhere™ solution and its advantages
> over existing conventional wind turbines and diesel based energy generating
> systems. If time permits, Fred will also talk about his incubator company 'FTI'
> that prototypes new energy and advanced technology inventions, such as
> advanced airships and an underwater version of the Magenn type of turbine.

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 magenn.com.

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 now.

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 competitive.

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.

Tian Harter