If we told you that a free-flying kite could provide enough energy to power your house, you might consider us crazy. The promise of kite power lies in its inexpensive materials and its potential to harness enormous amounts of power, since high altitude winds can carry hundreds of times more energy than those on the ground. Airborne kites produce power by pulling on a ground-bound generator, which reels the kites back once they reach their maximum height. Also, unlike a field-full of wind turbines, kite power requires a minimal amount of land use.
A flying device called Zephyr is assisting those deprived of electricity in disaster areas. Designed by students from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, the device can generate energy anywhere. It is made up of a box with an electrical transformer and a lightweight sail. Measuring 3.8m in diameter, the sail is covered with 15 sq m of lightweight solar panels. The Zéphyr project, a photovoltaic balloon designed by students, aims to supply energy to disaster areas.
In this project set up by two ambitious young Parisian graduates, Zephyr takes the form of a flying device that comes to the rescue of those living without electricity in disaster areas. In emergency situations, the question of energy supply is often of critical importance. At the moment, electricity in refugee camps generally comes from heavy, polluting generators that require expensive fuel oil. The supply chains for such oil can be broken, making procurement unpredictable.
This photovoltaic balloon is capable of generating energy in disaster areas where it is not possible to install land-based infrastructure. Image credit: ZEPHYR
These problems gave the students the idea of designing a photovoltaic balloon inspired by inflatable balloons, which can generate energy anywhere–even in disaster areas where it is not possible to install land-based infrastructure as a result, for example, of a natural catastrophe. The students, graduates of Telecom ParisTech and the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, met while working together from November 2013 to March 2014 on ‘energies of the future’ at the Laboratoire, a facility set up in Paris to bring together engineers and designers.
The principle is based on a highly mobile, low-cost kit made up of a box housing the technology and a lightweight sail. The land-based housing contains an electrical transformer and is less than a cubic meter in volume, while the sail is 3.8 m in diameter and is covered with 15 m2 of lightweight solar panels. ‘All you need to do is unfurl the sail and allow it to inflate.
The balloon collects solar energy and transports it to the ground via a cable, while the batteries store surplus energy and take over the power supply at night,’ explains Cédric Tomissi, one of the two young designers behind the project. The electrolyser uses nine litres of water plus the solar energy collected, coupled with the batteries inside the housing, to produce the gas needed to inflate Zéphyr in half a day. Halfway between a balloon and a kite, this hybrid device has a yield of up to 3 kilowatt hours (kWh), comparable to that of a traditional generator. This is enough to supply lighting and heating to around fifty people living, for example, in a refugee camp or emergency hospital. [Credit: CAROLINE DE MALET/ LE FIGARO (FRANCE)]