– Knight Ridder Newspapers

BERKELEY, Calif. – The scientific strength of the Russian weapons program is being aimed at a new target: wind power.

Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has teamed up with former soviet weapons scientists to design a small-scale wind turbine that could be used by individuals to provide power to their homes.

Three of the lead Russian scientists on the project visited the lab recently to showcase the new technology. The team works at the Makeyev State Rocket Center in Miass, Russia, which previously focused on developing submarine-launched missiles.

For a decade, the scientists have turned their skills toward wind technology, and for the last two years, they have been collaborating with Lawrence Berkeley to develop the new turbine. The work is part of a Department of Energy initiative to help Soviet scientists and engineers involved with designing and building weapons of mass destruction to find alternative, peaceful uses for their expertise and technology.

The result is a wind turbine that looks nothing like the traditional 100-foot windmill-style turbine that populates the hills of the Altamont Pass. The new turbine has vertical, fiberglass blades that rotate around a mast like an eggbeater.

The first prototype has a mast about 30 feet high with blades that 12-feet tall with a diameter of about 10 feet. But the design can be scaled up or down, and a rooftop turbine wouldn’t need a tall mast.

“We are very happy with the project and have a very high opinion of our American partners,” Russian scientist Vladimir Krivospitsky said through an interpreter. “The international collaboration makes the whole world better.”

Lawrence Berkeley helped form a new company, known as Wind Sail, to commercialize the new turbine. Several more prototypes are being built in Russia’s main helicopter factory and are expected to arrive in Berkeley for testing this fall.

“We’re in it to provide an opportunity for these folks to get into business,” said Glen Dahlbacka of Lawrence Berkeley.

Ryan Wiser of the lab’s Environmental Energies Technology division has been analyzing the market for small wind turbines. Currently there are only around 300 small turbines in California, he said.

Many of the smaller turbines are owned by people with homes too remote to connect to the traditional power grid. But Wiser thinks the rising cost of fossil fuel energy combined with technological advances and government rebates will make owning a wind turbine more attractive for homeowners connected to the grid.

“It’s not a huge market, but it’s a market that’s growing,” said Wiser.

The team hopes their turbine will beat out other small turbines aiming at the fledgling market. Though it’s not the only small, eggbeater-style turbine around, the Russian model may have the edge.

“We have more than 100 scientists and engineers working on this project,” said Richard Halstead, an engineer at Wind Sail. “It’s hard to rival that.”

“The efficiency is very high compared to other wind turbines in the market,” said Krivospitsky.

The turbine is also self-starting, which has been a trouble spot for other vertical turbines. It is also relatively quiet and easy to maintain. Another big advantage is that it is less likely to kill birds, a huge problem for windmill-style turbines like those on Altamont Pass.

A study by the BioResources Consultants in Ojai estimated that 22,000 birds, including 400 to 600 golden eagles, have died after flying into the blades of the 5,000 turbines that make up the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. Consultants say the birds are often so focused on their prey on the ground, they don’t notice the turning blades.

In January, the Center for Biological Diversity sued some of the companies that own the Altamont turbines for not doing enough to stop the bird kills.

Its inventors believe the Russian turbine will be safer for birds because the edges of the vertical blades are much slower than tips of the windmill-style blades, making them easier for birds to see. And birds can safely land on the top of a vertical turbine without getting hit by the blades.

The Russian team is now working on pairing the turbine with other technologies such as an efficient ice maker that could be used by deep-sea fishermen to keep their catch fresh, or in remote villages to keep food from spoiling.

The turbine could also power a water purification system originally designed to make drinking water for Russian submarines. And hydrogen fuel cell technology created for the Soviet space program could be used for a wind-powered hydrogen storage system.

For more information, visit www.wind-sail.com.

(c) 2004, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).

Visit the Contra Costa Times on the Web at http://www.contracostatimes.com.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WINDTURBINE

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): WINDTURBINE

AP-NY-08-20-04 0619EDT

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