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9/8/2008 | 2 MINUTE READ

LCP fiber tethers aerial wind energy system

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Kuraray America's Vectran liquid crystal polymer fiber is being used as a tether on a lighter-than-air wind turbine energy system.


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A liquid crystal polymer fiber that has landed on planet Mars is now being used closer to earth for its high performance in another type of MARS application – the Magenn Air Rotor System.

Kuraray America Inc.'s (New York, N.Y.) Vectran fiber is being used in a cable tether that is suspending a new type of alternative energy solution – a lighter-than-air tethered wind turbine that rotates about a horizontal axis in response to wind, generating electrical energy.

Vectran is the core of a braided cable tether that is wrapped with copper that can carry electrical currents. The tether is part of a sophisticated connection system that hooks the generators on each side of the floating turbine 1,000 feet up in the air – where the winds blow steadily and reliably – to the ground below and transfers electricity that can be used immediately or stored in batteries.  

The fiber’s high strength yet light weight made it ideal for this new rotating aircraft that generates electricity, according to the developers of the unique hybrid tether that combines fiber and metal into one system that can hold up to 20,000 lb/9,071 kg.

Vectran fiber met the specific requirements sought by Atkins & Pearce Inc. (Covington, Ky.), a 200-year-old producer of engineered textiles with an expertise in braids and fibers. Atkins & Pearce collaborated with Canada-based Magenn Power to develop the prototype system for MARS over the past three years, which was successfully launched in April 2008 and is now being tested.

“We were looking for a material with high strength that also had to be lightweight so the helium could lift the balloon off the ground,” said Jeramie Lawson with Atkins & Pearce’s new product development team.

“Steel cables would be too heavy,” he said. “We also needed a material with low elongation, even when carrying a large tensile load, and not stretch. We also were faced with the challenge of balancing the elongation of the Vectran fiber and copper.”

Aluminum end fittings were designed by Applied Fiber (Havana, Fla.) to properly connect the Vectran cable segments to the wind turbine. These resin-infused terminations at the ends of the rope allowed the segments to be threaded directly into a splitter box to secure the balloon, said Paul Badeau, vice president of business development of Applied Fiber, a developer of an advanced composite termination technology for synthetic fiber cables that provided the end point terminations.

Based on the positive results of using Vectran in the tethers, Magenn Power now plans on using it woven in the fabric of the helium-holding aircraft that also contains a UV laminate for sun protection. “We were looking for a stronger fiber for the fabric envelope and plan to use Vectran for its high strength and proven performance in the tethers,” said Mac Brown, Magenn Power’s chief marketing officer.

Vectran fiber also has been used as the fabric in the airbags on NASA’s Mars Spirit and Opportunity Rover missions that enabled the crafts’ soft landings. In addition, it has been used in bridle cables, space suits and inflatable spacecraft.