MARS: Taking Wind Power to a Higher Level
At the most basic level, generating electricity from the movement of wind is straightforward. You can learn about the process in more detail in How Wind Power Works, but the simple version is that wind spins a turbine's blades, which, in turn, cause an attached generator to also spin. The generator then converts that moving energy of the wind into electricity using electromagnetic induction, which involves using the opposite charges of a magnet to create an electric current.
Instead of the large pinwheel blades that are typical of wind turbines though, the blades of the MARS turbine are actually part of the three-dimensional blimp itself. The blades catch the wind, causing the entire blimp to spin around. After the generator converts that movement into electricity, it's transferred down the turbine's long tether.
Whereas most regular turbines capture winds at altitudes of 200 to 300 feet (61 to 91 meters), the MARS turbine can reach winds from 600 to 1,000 feet (183 to 305 meters) above ground level. Winds at these higher levels are significantly faster than low-level winds because they don't encounter as much resistance from objects on the ground like trees and buildings. Research shows that with each doubling of elevation, there is a 12 percent increase in wind speed; with each doubling of wind speed there is an eightfold increase in wind power [source: Layton].
Along with its potentially large power output, the tethered, inflatable MARS is also easy to deploy. Constructing and installing conventional wind turbines is a major endeavor often involving foundation blasting and the transport of heavy equipment. Digging up the ground may promote erosion in some areas, while removing trees and otherwise disrupting pristine environments can create fragment habitats and disturb entire species. When you consider that a modern wind turbine has rotor blades that weigh thousands of pounds a piece and are larger than a Boeing 747, you can see that setting one in the ground is no small task [source: American Wind Energy Association]. Understandably, many people are opposed to wind farms for these very reasons.
The MARS turbine, on the other hand, avoids all that. It's simply kept aloft by a lighter- than-air gas like helium. By now you can probably see how the MARS could elevate wind energy to new heights. Learn more about the design of this otherworldly turbine on the next page.