From War Machine to Clean Energy
22 Dec, 2009
It’s the kind of thing that many of us keep hoping will happen: A device funded by the government for the purpose of forwarding the war machine becomes repurposed for a totally peaceful function that contributes to the survival of all. For the trillions that have been spent on destruction, it’s nice to know that at least a fraction of this money eventually led to something that benefits civilization.
In the early 1980s, inventor and airship designer Fred Ferguson received government funding for the design of a device called the Magnus Airship. “It was funded through the United States Star Wars program at the time,” Anthony Pizarro, Director of Corporate Development for Magenn Power—founded by Fred Ferguson—told Organic Connections. “There was a military intention behind it, and it was to be a high-altitude lifting platform. For what purpose exactly I couldn’t say. Basically it was a round ball that was spinning, and on either hub of the sphere there was an electric motor. It was free floating, and the purpose behind that rotation was to give it better lift and maneuverability.”
When the Star Wars program was cancelled, funding was pulled for the Magnus Airship and Ferguson went on to other ventures. Later, however, in 2004, when record blackouts were occurring in California, wind energy began to receive serious attention. “Fred got the idea that he should design something like the Magnus Airship, only he would shape blades into the body of the sphere and tether it to the ground,” Pizarro explained. “Instead of having electric motors on the hubs, he would have electric generators. So he set about patenting the idea and eventually the patent came through. It went from military/Star Wars to renewable energy; it’s kind of funny when you think about it.”
The result was the MARS—an acronym for Magenn Air Rotor System. MARS is a helium-filled tethered wind turbine that rotates about a horizontal axis in response to wind, generating electrical energy. The energy is then transferred down a 1,000-foot tether for immediate use, or to a set of batteries for later use, or to the power grid. The use of helium allows MARS to ascend to a higher altitude than traditional wind turbines, and it captures the energy available in the 600- to 1,000-foot low-level and nocturnal jet streams that exist almost everywhere. The rotation also provides additional lift, keeps the MARS stabilized, and positions it within a very controlled and restricted location to adhere to Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada guidelines.
The initial applications being targeted are those that currently utilize diesel-generated power, such as mining, oil and gas, which have power requirements but no grid connection. Other examples include factories or rural applications where there is a grid that is not reliable or is very expensive.
“It turns out that the market for this is fairly large,” Pizarro said. “For example, the diesel-generated power market worldwide is almost $50 billion, so there’s a lot of fuel out there being purchased just for the sake of running diesel generators all over the world. It can be very expensive, because if you have a remote site, you have to bring fuel in and out and so on, and a cost per kilowatt hour can be quite high.”
The technology is still in its infancy as far as deployment goes; currently there are three testing sites operating, with another planned in the coming year.
It is certainly hoped that technology such as the MARS eventually becomes mainstream—and that many more lessons can be learned about converting high technology to peaceful uses.
For more information about the MARS and Magenn Power, please visit the Magenn Power website at www.magenn.com.