Interestingly, the basic idea behind the MARS turbine has been around since the late 1970s. Fred Ferguson, the company founder, actually initiated it when he invented the Magnus Airship. Patented in the 1980s, the airship was a large, round, helium-filled sphere that rotated backwards as the airship flew forward, producing lift (the Magnus effect). The faster the craft flew and the faster the wind speeds, the higher it would go.
More than 30 years later, Ferguson realized that the airship concept was also a potential source of renewable power. Converting the spinning motion of the blimp into electricity would be a great way to harness the higher-speed winds accessible to the aircraft. After years of research and millions of dollars worth of funding, the MARS turbine is nearing its final stages of testing and should be ready by 2010.
The first MARS turbine will be a 10 to 25 kW model capable of producing 10 kW. Magenn will then work on a 100kW size. If both of those are successful, Magenn hopes to eventually return to its plans to develop a smaller 4 kW backpack model for use by campers or homeowners. The turbine is expected to cost between $5 and $10 per watt, so that a 10 kW model would cost between $50,000 and $100,000; the operating cost of the power should be around 15 cents per kWh [source: Magenn].
Although these costs are higher than the average of 5 cents/kWh of conventional wind energy, they could potentially drop down quickly. For comparison purposes, conventional wind energy cost up to 30 cents/kWh when it first came out more than 30 years ago, but the price dropped as the technology improved and became more widespread. Likewise, the cost of energy generated by MARS could follow a similar trend.
Regardless of the cost, being able to set up wind turbines with the simple infusion of helium gas and a sturdy tether certainly opens up possibilities. For more on wind-energy turbines and the future of wind power, test out some of the links on the following page.