The year 2023 doesn’t sound like a good time to be a wind power startup. Take Ørsted, the Danish wind company: it recently announced that it would be taking a charge of up to $5.6 billion this year, partly because of various wind projects being canceled, including a large one off the coast of New Jersey. The decision was driven by inflation, high interest rates, and supplier delays, the company said.
Bad timing indeed, unless you’re a company that thinks the old way to design wind farms is all wrong.
“Wind turbines are big and getting bigger. That limits where they can be deployed. It limits site development: You can’t go to the mountains. It’s really hard to go to low wind sites; most of the high wind sites have been built,” said Neal Rickner, CEO of AirLoom Energy and former COO of Makani, the Google X wind power spinout. “So if you’re looking for additional sites to build, [traditional] horizontal turbines become less and less attractive.”
AirLoom is what you would call a non-traditional form of wind power, and naturally, it seeks to fill the gaps Rickner listed while also bringing the price down significantly. The startup has been operating under the radar (until now, at least) and it already has a small prototype up and running at its headquarters adjacent to the regional airport just outside Laramie, Wyoming.
The prototype works like this: A cable runs in a track atop a series of 25 meter (82 foot) tall poles arranged in an oval. Vertically-oriented, 10-meter (33-foot) long blades are attached to the cable to intercept the wind as it travels down both the home and the backstretch of the cable’s track. A power takeoff sits on one of the poles, connecting the system to the grid.
AirLoom’s president and co-founder, Robert Lumley, first sketched the concept on a napkin a decade ago and spent the intervening years working out the details and starting the company. He was inspired by kiteboarding, a hobby of his, while attending a wind energy conference in Berlin.