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Bill Gates-backed startup seeks to slash the cost of wind power to new lows — here’s how the new tech works

“For decades, the wind industry has lowered the cost of energy production by scaling ever larger turbines.”

"For decades, the wind industry has lowered the cost of energy production by scaling ever larger turbines."

Photo Credit: AirLoom

Airloom Energy, a Wyoming-based wind energy startup backed by Bill Gates, created a revolutionary wind-powered technology that it claims can slash energy costs by nearly 70%. 

While wind energy continues to get cheaper as more wind farms come online, the turbines themselves are outrageously expensive — a standard utility-scale 2.5 MW horizontal-axis wind turbine (HAWT) can cost roughly $2.1 million, according to an example cited on the Airloom website. 

In comparison, the startup’s unique wind power system — simply called AirLoom — comes in at just under $225,000 for a 2.5 MW system. It estimates an entire 20 MW AirLoom wind farm would cost less than $6 million — only about 25% of what conventional wind farms normally cost.

The cost savings can be attributed mostly to the AirLoom’s vastly smaller size and intuitive design that resembles a racetrack, with several 82-foot poles suspending the track in the air. A number of 33-foot blades, or wings, are placed evenly along the oval-shaped track, propelled by air currents to generate energy. 

Standard “pinwheel” turbines reach staggering heights of 500 feet or more, with the average tower now more than 320 feet tall, holding up massive 210-plus-foot blades, per the U.S. Department of Energy.

Though the wings on the AirLoom are much smaller, they still could reportedly generate the same energy as HAWT blades in part due to generators connected to the system that spin at 5,000 RPM, compared to 12 RPM for traditional turbines, according to a video on the Airloom website. 

Since Airloom’s device uses “human-scale parts” that are easier to manufacture and transport, the company says this will help lower the overall cost of harnessing wind energy. Plus, HAWT blades take up a ton of room in landfills and have rarely been recycled, according to Chemical & Engineering News (though creative solutions are emerging for this). 

The reduced weight and size of materials used in the breakthrough AirLoom wind device will lessen the impact on landfills once it’s decommissioned. 

“Cost and environmental advantages extend over the Airloom’s entire lifecycle. It uses readily sourced materials to ensure rapid manufacturing, and an entire 2.5 MW Airloom could be transported in one standard tractor trailer,” Airloom Energy said in a press release

Founded in 2020, the startup plans to use the $4 million it received in seed funding led by Bill Gates’ investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, for the research and development of its 50 kW prototype.

In the future, Airloom aims to scale up the system, building tracks up to 1,300 feet long (per the website video) for 1 MW systems, and generating hundreds of megawatts in industrial-scale wind farms. 

The company hasn’t yet announced when we might see its devices deployed in commercial wind farms. But, if the prototype is successful, it could be a game-changer for the wind power industry, helping to drive down energy costs and add to our arsenal of planet-cooling technologies.

“For decades, the wind industry has lowered the cost of energy production by scaling ever larger turbines. Although this has been extremely successful in driving down overall costs, the approach now faces challenges in terms of both siting and cost of materials,” said business lead Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures in the press release

“Airloom’s unique approach can solve both these problems, opening new market opportunities for wind energy that will further drive down costs,” he added. 

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