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Aviation solar_airship

Published on April 13th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer

17

Could Huge Solar Blimps Haul Cargo Fast and Clean at 30,000 Feet?

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April 13th, 2010 by
 
 

Could a solar-powered dirigible be the cargo ship of our peak-oil, carbon-constrained future? If the inventor of the patent pending  High Speed Solar Airship is correct, the future of long haul cargo combines solar powered transmission married to centuries-old dirigible technology.

Like the old blimp, a gas envelope lifts the airship from sea level to its cruising altitude. Unlike the old blimp, this new solar blimp would cruise at a much higher altitude: at 30,000 feet.

The HSSA would be powered by 24,000 square feet of thin-film  solar cells in an integrated application on top of the balloon – for 62.7 KW of rated power. However,  that rating would be if it was on earth.

Because of the altitude, there would also be a 30% efficiency boost of the solar power once aloft, just from the freezing cold at that altitude. In addition, because the height is well above cloud levels; sunlight is unobstructed. This would provide sun for well over the maximum earthbound solar access of up to 8 hours a day.

Thinner air at that height also means faster speeds.The 320 foot long airship could reach daytime speeds of 182 MPH utilizing a 96 MPH average Jet Stream wind speed, and even continue flying at night with a speed of 165 MPH, carrying 60 tons of cargo, and 2 million cubic feet of helium.
 

 
The inventor has done some limited flight testing with a 1:20 scale model and if it works at full size, this  could be a very low carbon cargo transport option of the future.

The company SolarAirShip claims that its $5 million blimp would be competitive both in speed and in cost with conventional trucking, at least when traveling with the Jet Stream assist.

Because it only needs water to weigh it down for unloading and unloading, the company says it is possible to land in places roads can’t reach, without a landing strip, and carrying much more cargo much more cheaply than any traditional VTOL aircraft could provide. The implications for disaster relief and emergency rescue are significant.

However, helium gas to loft the solar cargo blimp is a scarce resource, now produced very slowly via decaying uranium and thorium. The other buoyancy gas options are ammonia, coal gas,  hydrogen, and methane.  All are worse greenhouse gases or dangerously flammable.

One option might be to use solar-heated air for the lifting envelope, since hot air rises. The original dirigibles of the 1700′s were lofted up by air heated by burners underneath. Instead of burning a fuel, though, some of the solar could be used to heat air to lift it.

Image: SolarAirShip

Source: Inhabitat

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • Shuleebay

    Reading these comments the earth is still flat

  • euroflycars

    The German Zeppelin-type CargoLifter blimp had been designed for carrying loads of up to 500 metric tons, along with a very serious market study showing that hydroeletric turbine-generator assemblies would represent the bulk of the business.

    Alas, with high-altitude mountain valleys as typical destinations, the procedure of filling up the water-ballast tanks while dropping the load was forecast by independent experts to be unsafe because in these places atmospheric conditions can radically change within minutes.

    Although Europe’s largest free spanning hangar had already been built near Berlin, and the manufacture of the first structural elements of the hull undertaken in Switzerland, the project was abandoned and the market study sold to Dornier.

    So I would advise the SolarAirShip company to get a very close look back into the failed CargoLifter project before investing heavily in their own high-risk venture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stan.mudge Stan Mudge

    Pretty cool…

  • http://arnold3jimenez.terapad.com/index.cfm?fa=contentNews.newsDetails&newsID=408581&from=list Alissa Daliva

    Normally I wouldn’t comment on posts but I felt that I had to as your writing style is really excellent. You have broken down a difficult area so that it simple to understand. I think that you would enjoy reading what another good blogger has to say on the topic.

  • nehopsa

    Love this but for all reasons it is but a dream. Starting with helium. You will never make anything like this cost competitive. High altitude blimps cannot carry much load.

    You can opt for a vacuum one but that is even more of a dream and would collapse down at sea level.

  • http://www.myspace.com/nostradome Nostradome

    Mark Summers, I sent you an email.

  • Mark Summers

    Hello, this is Mark Summers. I designed and built the concept vehicle this article is about. I think there are some misconceptions regarding the design that I would like to clear up.

    Regarding the carrying capacity: Actually the 120,000 lb carrying capcity is enough for several 40′ shipping containers, depending on individual weight. The prototype carried 2 simulated loads in 1:20 scale shipping containers. Also, I would have to object to describing 120,000 lbs as having “no application”. The 767 carries about that much, and seems to be doing fine. Trucks carry even less, and yet they carry the majority of all cargo in the US. The upfront cost of the HSSA is higher, but the total cost per ton/mile is MUCH lower over the lifespan of the vehicle due to lower maintenance and no fuel costs.

    Regarding Joe Bloggs comment, to be blunt you don’t know what you are talking about. German zeppelins could fly at 25,000 feet almost 100 years ago, and thats while carrying thousands of pounds of bombs. Thats without any modern composites. The prototype flew under solar power, and with plenty of energy to spare. On all my flights the batteries ended with a higher than they started with, even during engine thrust tests.

    Nostradome, your post came of as accusatory. I’m not sure if that was your intent. How far along is your project? Have you been able to make a flying prototype?

    • Wendell

      Dear Mark,

      I think an ideal early application would be for fighting forest fires. This is most suitable for solar, as fighting fires from the air at night is of questionable value using intuitive risk-reward analysis.

      On no-fire days, one could probably earn more money by flying early adopters than cargo.

      Regards,

      Wendell

    • euroflycars

      The German Zeppelin-type CargoLifter blimp had been designed for carrying loads of up to 500 metric tons, along with a very serious market study showing that hydroeletric turbine-generator assemblies would represent the bulk of the business.

      Alas, with high-altitude mountain valleys as typical destinations, the procedure of filling up the water-ballast tanks while dropping the load was forecast by independent experts to be unsafe because in these places atmospheric conditions can radically change within minutes.

      Although Europe’s largest free spanning hangar had already been built near Berlin, and the manufacture of the first structural elements of the hull undertaken in Switzerland, the project was abandoned and the market study sold to Dornier.

      So I would advise the SolarAirShip company to get a very close look back into the failed CargoLifter project before investing heavily in their own high-risk venture.

  • Gerard Vaughan

    So when there are “blimps” about the sea is like a millpond, but where “offshore wind” exists there is a steady strong wind. Well that’s another facet of climate change, I guess.

  • juangault

    Traveling over the ocean has always presented challenges. Boats are slow, use a lot of fuel. The blimp could come back as some kind of surveillance or electronic high ground application, but they are vulnerable to all kinds of problems. There is fuel saving in high tech sails for existing cargo haulers are coming back.

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/03/beluga-skysails-cargo-ship-kites.php

    The thing I want a ride to Havai’i with is a turboprop version of what the Russians were cooking up during that brotherly cold war a generation ago.

    http://www.vincelewis.net/ekranoplan.html

    But it has to be able to ride smooth and safe over those big waves. Boeing has spent some time trying to build a big bird using ground effect, Maybe a generation from now, with lightweight components, it might happen.

  • http://www.airshipblimp.com Joe Bloggs

    Hi folks,

    The answer to the question is a very definite NO. It is possible to design a blimp to reach 30,000 feet but it will be very large and not carry much more than a lightweight pilot. The solar panel airship is possible but it will also be unable to lift anything more than storage batteries and crew. There is also a lot more money in passengers anyway, so the whole concept will remain a dream.

    Regards

    Joe ( http://www.airshipblimp.com & http://www.airship.me )

  • http://www.myspace.com/nostradome Nostradome

    All well and good,I know & love Airships…I have a better more practical product-Faster,Safer Airship.

    http://www.myspace.com/nostradome

    Read “Save the Earth from Above the Earth”

    Most people are Still Stuck in 1936 with the Airships they present,or they try to “Borrow” from me without much insight….ending in failure .

    see the guy even Lockheed “Borrows”

    from.

    steve Nostradome

  • Jacob

    isn’t helium also very flammable? Methane would be practically free from landfills.

    • obvious

      NO it isn’t flammable! (you are thinking of Hydrogen). Methane IS flammable. lol man at least think a little

  • Paul

    So it can carry a single 40 ft shipping container?? Which form of transport does this displace? There’s simply no application for this.

    I don’t mean to be so negative but an ocean going container ship carries up to 15,000 containers. A train can carry up to 20,000 tons. This would be so inefficient it’s simply a total non-starter.

    • obvious

      it replaces the flying all-terrain lorry.

      Airships are actually great at getting very heavy or awkward things from A to B when there are obstacles or terrain problems. Slow yes but it FLIES.

      Not everyone can afford to build a new railroad to deliver heavy parts or to remote communities with bad access.

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