A US start-up backed by Bill Gates and headed by a Google veteran aims to change the face of utility-scale wind generation with 'tracks and wings'-based technology that’s claimed to dramatically slash costs compared to existing turbines.

AirLoom Energy claims its small-scale test device in the US state of Wyoming “uses the same physics as a conventional horizontal-axis wind turbine but with a very different layout” which “produces the same amount of power as a HAWT at a small fraction of the mass and cost”.

The company said it just completed a $4m seed funding round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, set up by Microsoft billionaire Gates to back promising energy technologies.

Bill Gates. Photo: Shutterstock,Lev Radin

It also announced the hiring of CEO Neal Rickner, who previously spent a decade at Google working on innovations such as the Makani energy kite, which was eventually shelved by the web giant's parent group.

The funding will be used to advance AirLoom's 50kW prototype, which it hopes will eventually scale up to be “megawatt scale and deployed hundreds of megawatts at a time in utility-scale wind farms”.

The system works by harnessing wind to propel ‘wings’ along a lightweight track.

AirLoom cited levelised cost of energy as low as $0.013/kWh and site Capex of around $0.21/W – “eg., under $6m for a 20MW wind farm”. It reckons the latter is about a quarter of the cost of using current technology.

Along with the costs advantages, the start-up claims it operates at a fraction of the height of latest supersized utility-scale wind turbines – around 24 metres – and can “be configured high or low, short or long, to optimise siting, viewplane and usage, and does not require large concrete foundations in commissioning.

The Airloom wind power system. Photo: Airloom

“The decrease in overall weight and materials also means greatly reduced landfill impacts at the end of its use.”

Breakthrough Energy Ventures business lead Carmichael Roberts said: "For decades, the wind industry has lowered the cost of energy production by scaling ever larger turbines. Although this has been extremely successful in driving down overall costs, the approach now faces challenges in terms of both siting and cost of materials.”

Roberts added: "AirLoom’s unique approach can solve both these problems, opening new market opportunities for wind energy that will further drive down costs.”

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