High-Flying Kite to Harvest Wind Energy

Oregon BEST is helping a startup team with OSU researchers to speed development of a tethered kite system that harvests wind energy without turbine towers

An Oregon startup is developing a rigid kite that can be deployed to harvest energy from the more consistent, higher velocity winds available at altitudes unreachable by small wind turbines.

Armed with a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and additional funding and business assistance from Oregon BEST, Beaverton, Ore.-based eWind Solutions is developing a tethered kite system the company says will be able to power up to five homes for a quarter of the cost of other small wind turbine systems. Small wind is defined as wind turbines with a capacity rating of less than 100 kW.

The technology includes a rigid kite tethered to a capstan drum on the ground that is connected to a generator. As the wind pulls the kite higher into the sky, the drum spins and generates electrical power. When the kite reaches the maximum operational range, it glides back in as the ground station rewinds the tether and the cycle repeats. As wind speeds increase, so does the electrical power generated (see video, below).

The eWind team tests a prototype on Oregon coast."Our system is four times more efficient than other small wind turbine systems because it operates at altitudes that are above surface turbulence where the wind is more consistent," said David Schaefer, CEO of eWind Solutions and a former director of engineering at Xerox (Schaefer is pictured, center, with technical team launching prototype). "From a single kite system, we will be able to produce about 45,000-50,000 kilowatt hours per year, which can power four or five homes, or one large farm. Our device generates energy equal to a traditional 50 kW wind turbine, but you don't need to build and maintain towers."

Most small wind turbine towers are only 30 to 50 feet tall, too low to access the more consistent, faster winds found at higher altitudes. The eWind kite is designed to fly just below 500 feet, which alleviates Federal Aviation Administration regulations for devices that exceed that altitude.

The company, located at the Oregon Technology Business Center, is initially targeting farmers, vineyard owners and other rural residents, because a single kite requires approximately 40 acres to operate. But the efficiency increases with acreage, allowing as many as five kites to be deployed above 80 acres.

The kite might have the hidden benefit of keeping crop-damaging animals away because it could be perceived as a bird of prey, the company said.

Although other companies are working in the small wind category, other technologies use UAVs weighing as much as 600 pounds or heavy tethers containing wire to transmit the electricity generated back to the ground.

"Our system uses a more aerodynamically efficient aerial device with onboard GPS-guided flight controls that ensure it accurately follows a prescribed circular or figure eight cork-screw crosswind flight path," Schaefer said.

The company won a $100,000 SBIR grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and Oregon BEST recently awarded $125,000 from its Early-Stage Investments Programs. The Oregon BEST support is enabling the company to collaborate with Oregon State University researchers, including Roberto Albertani, a professor of mechanical engineering, and three students. The university research will speed commercialization of the kite system by developing computer models based on testing in a wind tunnel at the OSU College of Engineering.

"This project taps years of research at my OSU lab in bio-inspired flight and the impact of wind energy on wildlife," Albertani said. "One graduate student and two undergraduates are directly involved in the wind tunnel testing and the aerodynamic mathematical models of the kite, which will enhance eWind Solutions' design and performance prediction capabilities."

Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization Programs at Oregon BEST, said the eWind project is another example of how a growing range of clean technologies is improving renewable energy generation. "We are pleased to be helping eWind collaborate with an Oregon university to explore a new technology that has the potential to add another type of clean energy generation to the growing suite of renewable energy options."

In addition to funding, Oregon BEST offers a wide range of support for cleantech startups in Oregon, and currently has more than 35 Oregon BEST Companies that are receiving help moving their clean technologies toward the marketplace.

Media Contact: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
Sources: Ken Vaughn, Oregon BEST, 503-430-4529; David Schaefer, eWind Solutions, 503-531-9815

About Oregon BEST http://oregonbest.org
Oregon BEST funds and assists cleantech startups, bringing together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths to support entrepreneurs in the creation of new products and services. As the nexus for clean technology innovation, Oregon BEST builds capability, convenes collaborations and accelerates solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. More than 250 Oregon BEST Member Faculty and a network of nine Oregon BEST Labs at four partner universities (Oregon State University, Oregon Tech, Portland State University, and University of Oregon) offer research expertise and lab equipment to industry. Oregon BEST competitively awards Early-Stage Investments to collaborations between startup companies and Oregon BEST Member Faculty at partner universities.

About eWind Solutions http://ewindsolutions.com
Startup eWind Solutions is a close-knit group of tech savvy optimists who have taken on an incredibly tough challenge: to provide affordable, reliable, renewable energy with a highly maneuverable airborne wind energy system. The company's goal is to keep the lights on and the polar ice caps frozen.