You are here

Lighter than air - Dialogue. Inspired by comments at the Bedford convention, on macroeconomics.

On Friday, the second and final day of the 8th International Airship Convention in Bedford, there was a late comment from Professor Khoury concerning LTA technology, its market potential and macroeconomics. It was given in conjunction to a presentation by Mr. Talesnikov, RosAeroSystems, and in dialogue with Dr. Sträter, former manager of Zeppelin, and his views on market potential for cargo airships. Professor Khoury put forward the idea that LTA could be of decisive importance for the development of the northern parts of Russia and Canada and also for outcome on macroeconomic development in general. These statements have inspired me to write about this theme and variations. For me there are three starting points.

First: Together with Dr. Matts Lundin I conduct a survey financed by the Swedish Energy Agency, using LTA technology in building wind power parks in Sweden. Transport demand and transport supply are in focus.

Second: From 1977 to 1982 I was a full time researcher in architecture, department of town planning and transportation, working with land use planning.

Third: I am currently involved in projects and companies working with climate change issues.

Points of departure

In Sweden there is a debate concerning the relation between GDP and transport. When GDP increase, transport work increases, or are there signs that this relationship has come to an end?

During the latest economic cries we saw that transport work declined rapidly but now it has come to a turning point again and transport demand goes up. We know that transport and logistic cost is rising due to climate fees and will increase further. We also know that construction, building and maintenance of new infrastructure are huge investments. Lack of infrastructure still seems to be the case in many developed countries. I will briefly give some thoughts about LTA as a transport mode, not only in favour of remote areas, but also for society on a large scale.

1. Survey for Swedish Energy Agency

Our aim is to investigate if it is realistic, cost-effective and viable using LTA in building wind power parks in Sweden. We have already looked at the balloon crane systems from CargoLifter and discovered several advantages with this technology to overcome problems related to existing transport modes. Our survey will also illustrate what happens when transport demands change, for example due to new constructions (towers in timber or vertical-axis wind turbine), or when supplies change, for example new introductions of Lighter than Air Vehicles (LTAV). Dr. Matts Lundin has been implementing a transport model for Sweden from Canada, STAN - (Strategic Transportation Analysis Model), which is in use among our Swedish transport authorities. We will use this model for calculations and simulations in our work to measure transport costs, transport work and different sacrifices with introduction of big scale commitment in wind power in Sweden. In this context we see LTAV´s as a new tool for upgrading the logistic side and environmental aspects of building a more sustainable energy system.      

2. White Paper – European transport policy for 2010: time to decide

This report from the European Commission 2001 on European transport policy was a very ambitious attempt to describe how all member states should act together to fulfil profound transport goals for a new, accessible EU. This sector accounts for over 10 % of EU´s gross domestic product (about 1000 billion euro and employs 10 million people). Maybe more interesting is that congestion in 2010 is estimated to 1 % of EU´s gross domestic product. The next White Paper will be here in late 2010. From the first White Paper a lot of new changes have emerged, like “EU enlargement, the acceleration of globalisation, international commitments of fighting global warming and rising energy prices” but also the latest financial crisis. LTAV can hopefully be competitive in some economic and ecologic areas like building wind power parks using green technology for sustainable energy production in Sweden and elsewhere.   

3. Climate change and Peak Oil

The most important reason for us in Sweden to build up a wind power programme is to find ways to build a future energy system, characterised and balanced between aspects like environment, economics and security of supply. This starting point leads to many different aspects of this turn around from a fossil based energy system to a sustainable system. For example, should we use concrete and steel to build towers when we can use timber towers with much lower CO2 footprint. Why not use wind power producing hydrogen for the BCS from CargoLifter instead of helium? Here we can find a lot of questions to deal with in conjunction to climate change and peak oil. Now we can also add questions like biodiversity and ecosystem services within our traffic and transport policy making work. The project “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” will try to find the frame for dealing with the economics aspects of these two aspects. 


4. LTAV´s as a new transport mode

One aspect on macroeconomics, LTAV´s and new transport modes is not only to mitigate problems within our present transport system, but also how to amplify the economic activity in brief. I can see a lot of applications for the LTAV´s if it is affordable, attractive and accessible as transport and by logistics. We are not there for the moment but if the profits for the society on a large scale are high then it is reasonable to put public money in this sector. 

5. Research platform in Sweden

There are possibilities to get our research project from the Swedish Energy Agency on a Swedish and International research agenda. We will give the Airship Associations members information of our attempts. 

Tentative conclusions 

I see three possible conclusions from these inspiration days in Bedford; 1) Form a “synergism strategy” out of all good and constructive forces working with LTA´s. Dr. Sträter gave us a proposal and reasons why this is desirable/necessary. 2) In areas with high density of roads/infrastructure, the positive side, we can add aspects like low speed, congestion and lack of infrastructure that is good enough, the negative side. In today’s big cities it is very expensive, and with a lot of restrictions, to transport different entities around or build new infrastructure. 3) Why public money for the development of this technology? Mankind has to be more innovative in the transport sector to handle challenges of a new magnitude than in past days. 


Hi Ulf - interesting paper and one that I will be following with great expectations. I am currently undertaking an MA / Doctorate program in the Arts (currently, MA Design) with my major project being in the promotion of airship technology (note, that I am not an engineer, so my work is purely presentation and promotion with engineering accuracy being more on a second footing, but certainly no less important). The main focus of the project is part of what you describe - the potential use of airship transport in dense travel network environments where the relatively low speeds are still a great improvement on the typical congested roads, and especially during heavier hours. Will wait in anticipation for the outcomes of your proposals.

Standing tower wind farms are very expensive to not only manufacture but also to construct as well as they are expensive to maintain, lots of moving parts that increase the chances of malfunctions or break downs. More to the point wind power on the whole is pretty inefficient you need lots of copper cable to transmit the power great distances because as we have seen with public opinion no one wants a 200 foot tall wind turbine in their back yard. Also a huge downside of standing tower wind farms is the ecological damage they are causing. They are causing huge amounts of bird and bat deaths due to the differential in air pressure surrounding the blades that when the animals fly near them it causes their lungs to collapse, and the public is becoming much more aware of these issues so in the near future we will probably be seeing greater resistance to this type of renewable energy. Another problem plaguing the standing tower wind turbine farms that are built out on the sea side is the effect they are having on ocean currents. The land that the turbine poles are built on is quickly beginning to erode due to the tighter space that the water is having to flow through during tidal changes the tighter spaces is causing the water to move faster through out the wind farm causing increased erosion which is starting to compromise the structural integrity of the wind turbines. As well as that wind patterns change frequently and not enough studies have been done to research long term wind patterns, which for the most part are unpredictable. The wind might be blowing very strong in spot A and not spot B for the next decade but what about when that current shifts and now the wind is strong in point B and not A now you have to rebuild another entire wind farm and are starting over with your investment. Standing tower wind farms cannot be moved with out costing a lot of money and using a lot of energy. However if you look at a platform like the MARS turbine by Magenn wind power you are offered the ability to generate clean renewable energy, the turbine is not blocking the view, its no longer an ecological issue with low flying birds and mammals, as well as having any real effect on either sea or air currents. Most importantly an application like the MARS turbine offers you the unique ability to manufacture and construct off site and then transport them via LTA craft to the deployment site, standing tower wind turbines use large amounts of money & energy to transport due to their weight and awkward size so now you have saved a lot of money & energy on the transportation issue. You need special equipment for not only the transportation of them but also the construction of the towers and turbines. It takes a lot of steel and concrete to hold these massive turbines in position so they have a larger Co2 footprint. Another big advantage with an application like the MARS turbine is the ability to go where the wind is so to speak. All you need is an anchor in the ground. So by building anchor points around various locations as short term but also long term wind currents change the locations of the turbines can move as well to be placed where the most amount of energy can be harnessed. Another great advantage with the mobile application is maintenance. If a fault occurs in the system the turbine can be lowered to the ground where it thus becomes accessible to a larger maintenance crew with vehicle access, labor and tools now have much greater access to the turbine for efficient maintenance. Ideally you could develop the system to be a plug and play application. So in the event of a fault occurring in the turbine a turbine itself could be brought down swapped out for a new one and then raised back up to continue to produce energy with out being out of commission for extended periods of time, while the faulty one is now on its way to a protected workshop to be repaired, and then redeployed. The only downside I can see with an application like the MARS turbine is that they call to be filled with helium in which helium is very expensive, making these less cost effective of an application. In reality the only way to make these an actual cost effective application is to have them filled with either both helium and hydrogen or purely with hydrogen, by doing this it would greatly reduce their overall costs as well as running costs for future refills Standing tower wind turbines on a whole in my opinion is a very expensive investment with out getting the right amount of return in value. Its not cost effective as a large scale use for renewable energy generation. I believe that for the amount of money & energy a country is willing to invest into renewable energy smarter applications need to be implemented, these applications can not just be less polluting to be renewable but they need to fit into the different niches of nature to be truly sustainable, deploying mobile wind turbines such as a MARS turbine is one way in which a wind turbine can fit into the Eco-system while still providing clean renewable energy.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer