Think of these floating turbines as the wind farms of the future and you won’t be that far off. Developed by Altaeros energies, the floating turbines are designed to take advantage of the powerful prevailing winds that exist 2,000 feet above our heads. Once they’ve been inflated and deployed, these floating power plants can generate twice the output of a ground-based turbine. The tethers that keep the turbine anchored in place also send that energy ground-ward.
While in the air, the turbines can also serve as Wi-Fi, cell service hubs, and weather monitoring stations. Furthermore, the turbine’s helium-inflated housing is durable enough for deployment in either the blazing sun or freezing snow. Basically, anywhere you install one of these suckers, you instantly get data coverage, electricity and local weather data, even if your previous system involved a sun dial and carrier pigeons.
Looks “high tech” enough…
Except for one small problem… Obtaining helium requires fracking for natural gas and extracting it ‘naturally’ from the ground:
Helium is generated underground by the radioactive decay of heavy elements such as uranium and thorium. Part of the radiation from these elements consists of alpha particles, which form the nuclei of helium atoms. Some of this helium finds its way to the surface and enters the atmosphere, where it quickly rises and escapes into space. The rest becomes trapped under impermeable layers of rock and mixes with the natural gases that form there. The amount of helium found in various natural gas deposits varies from almost zero to as high as 4% by volume. Only about one-tenth of the working natural gas fields have economically viable concentrations of helium greater than 0.4%.
Or, most likely, refining helium from natural gas which is a very energy intensive process:
Helium is usually produced as a byproduct of natural gas processing. Natural gas contains methane and other hydrocarbons, which are the principal sources of heat energy when natural gas is burned. Most natural gas deposits also contain smaller quantities of nitrogen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, helium, and other non-combustible materials, which lower the potential heat energy of the gas. In order to produce natural gas with an acceptable level of heat energy, these impurities must be removed. This process is called upgrading.
There are several methods used to upgrade natural gas. When the gas contains more than about 0.4% helium by volume, a cryogenic distillation method is often used in order to recover the helium content. Once the helium has been separated from the natural gas, it undergoes further refining to bring it to 99.99+% purity for commercial use.
Why not simply cut to the chase, and use the natural gas to generate electricity in the first place?