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CleanTech Breakthrough: Wind-powered Airplanes

“Air” plane

An announcement made this week is stirring excitement in the aviation industry as a scientist turned inventor claims he can dramatically reduce or perhaps remove fossil fuels from modern flight. His innovative design employs wind power to make an airplane version of popular hybrid cars. He claims his prototype is cheap and scaleable–and it can easily be added to existing aircraft. The implications are far reaching as the aviation industry comes under increasing pressure to reduce their green house gas emissions.According to inventor Dr. Josef Popf, “The idea struck me as I was driving through a wind farm in Kentucky. Why not strap one of those puppies to an airplane? When I first started doing the math, it was really just for fun. I expected the wind turbine to slow down the airplane. But the deeper I delved into the problem, the more plausible it started to appear. Then, after about two solid months, I found the answers I needed and filed for a patent.”

Essentially, it’s not so different from the hybrid systems employed by hybrid cars. As an airplane cruises or comes in to land, the turbine super-charges high-capacity batteries. That energy can then be used during future take-offs and landings. The trick, according to Popf, is to use the wind turbine at high altitudes, where the thinner atmosphere puts less stress on the airplane, preventing excessive drag. Then, during landing, the wind turbine helps to slow the plane, saving even more fuel. Popf estimates airlines could increase fuel efficiency by 50%-70%, depending on the craft. And with biofuels already undergoing tests in the industry, carbon-based jet fuel could be a thing of the past.

“I was surprised to discover that the technology and parts are already available, you just have to rearrange some of the components. Existing manufacturing and assembly plants could start making and outfitting them tomorrow with minimal investment,” said an airline executive. “We’re very excited, and Dr. Popf is working with us to make this technology readily available around the world.”

Dr. Josef Popf is a physicist better known for his work with the U.S. Navy–some of which is still top-secret. His experience with fluid dynamics helped him innovate his wind turbine design. He claims that the application of his invention is not only limited to aviation; he’s working on designs for cars, buildings, boats, and even submarines.


U.S. Patent Office

Video of Press Conference

Scientific Data

(Cloud-plane courtesy of p.j.maracle via Flickr)

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is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.


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