Carbon Fiber-kite can generate 600 kilowatts of energy from 10,000 feet in the air

Sustainability |  2 min. read

Want to solve the world’s energy issues?  Go fly a kite.

But not that kind of kite.  This kind of kite…

(Photo from Makani)

…an energy kite (even if it looks more like a plane).  You might think of it as a flying wind turbine.

Makani, the energy kite maker, did start out with something that looked more like a kite.  That figures, when you discover that it was a group of kitesurfers that started the project.  But to generate serious wind power, to stay aloft at 1000 feet, and to handle force that runs from 7 to 15 Gs (1 G being the normal force of gravity) – a carbon-fiber frame is needed.

And that figures too – carbon fibers are twice as stiff as steel, five times as strong and much lighter.  There is some serious chemistry involved in producing that carbon fiber but the essential starting points are propylene for the carbon fiber (via polyacrylonitrile) and epoxy group, and benzene for the polycarbonate epoxy backbone, which are derived from petrochemicals (and the starting point for these chemical wonders is petroleum or natural gas).

So why a flying wind turbine?  We’ll let Makani explain that:

“Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people live within 25 miles of a coastline where winds are strong and steady, but two-thirds of coastal waters are too deep for conventional wind energy systems that sit on the seabed.”

The answer?  Go fly a kite.  The current version of the Makani kite is the size of a small jet, carries four wind turbines and can generate as much as 600 kilowatts of electricity.  Like a kite, it is tethered to the ground (not a kid’s hand).  The tether is how the electricity gets from the kite down to earth, and a sophisticated computer software system steers the kite. Did we mention the parent company of Makani is Alphabet – the parent company of Google? So you can bet they’ve got that part covered.

It’s not an energy solution for everyone, everywhere. However, in places where the wind is strong and where other platforms aren’t suitable a fleet of kites looks like it could definitely be one answer to our energy needs.