There’s huge potential in the sky high above us. Here, winds are more constant and stronger than closer to the ground. Ampyx Power wants to use this potential by developing efficient tethered aircraft that convert the wind above 200 meters into energy. For about 10 years, Ampyx Power has been developing this technology, and innovations are being scaled up. This week they embarked on an important new phase with their third generation prototype: AP3.
For those who don’t know Ampyx Power: Ampyx Power is developing an innovative wind turbine that converts wind at higher altitude into electricity with only a fraction (10%) of the material used for wind turbines. The compact system with comparable power output is easy to transport, install and maintain. This ultimately results in lower costs with comparable energy yield. A wonderful development in ImpactCity The Hague.
From idea to reality
The idea of generating electricity with a kite energy system was already described by scientist Miles Lloyd in 1980. Former Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels patented the technology with kites in 1987: Airborne Wind Energy was born as a concept. In 2004, Richard Ruiterkamp worked as an assistant professor at the Delft University of Technology together with Ockels, to further develop the technology. And although a few successful tests were performed, Ruiterkamp realized that an efficient fixed wing (airplane) instead of a kite would be needed to optimize the technology for the market.
Together with a few others, he decided to found Ampyx Power and develop a system with an airplane, which is easier to control in the wind and less vulnerable than a kite. Since the foundation in 2009, 8 prototypes have been built with AP0, AP1, and AP2. An exciting period with a growing group of enthusiastic employees.
How does it work?
A glider flies autonomously on a tether connected to a generator on the ground. Up to 450 meters high, the glider moves in a fixed pattern. When the aircraft moves, it pulls the cable, causing the generator to turn and generate electricity. When the tether is completely reeled out, the aircraft automatically descends and the cable is reeled in. The aircraft then returns into its flying pattern and repeats the process. The energy consumption when reeling in the cable is a fraction of the energy that is produced when reeling out.
The aircraft starts, flies and lands completely autonomous from a platform using all kinds of sensors that provide the autopilot with essential information to perform the tasks safely.
The aircraft must be 100% safe to fly. This is why Ampyx Power, in collaboration with European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), certifies its process, based on the strict safety requirements of civil aviation. Ampyx Power also collaborated with EASA on a regulatory framework for drones that are being developed for this type of energy generation.
The commercial model will initially be developed for the on- and offshore repowering market of the first generation of wind turbines in Europe, that will come to the end of their lifetime by 2025-2027. The infrastructure and the existing foundations can be reused for the compact platforms of the aircraft. From there they launch with a catapult and with the help of the autopilot and the cable they can be landed for maintenance or repair. After the repowering market, Ampyx Power will work towards a floating system that will unlock new offshore locations for wind power generation.
A startup can learn a lot from Ampyx Power when it comes to financing the technology development. In order to realize their dreams, the founding fathers seized every opportunity to ensure sufficient capital. In total, 30 million euros have been invested in the past 10 years, of which 7 million raised with crowdfunding. The remaining 23 million came from investments and subsidies such as “Kansen voor West” from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Listen to the Impact Podcast about this subject with Jaap Bosch from Ampyx Power.
This week it was announced that TKI Wind op Zee (RVO) has again awarded Ampyx Power a subsidy. This time the goal is to work with partner DSM on a Dyneema tether that is optimized for the commercial 2 MW model, the successor to the prototype that is being built. This cable must be strong enough to make the aircraft fly 24-7 and must also be cost-efficient.
In addition to attracting capital, finding the right employees is an important priority for Ampyx Power. Without talented people, it is not possible to develop such a project. Ampyx Power succeeded in building a great team of specialists from all over the world (19 nationalities) in The Hague. The people who work here all have a passion for innovation and experience an informal but professional work environment. Here, they can make a real difference. The team consists of Aircraft Design, Algorithms, Electronics, Mechatronics, Software, Structures, and System Engineers. 85% have a university background and 10% have a Ph.D. background.
The new prototype: the AP3
Meanwhile, after a long design phase and the production of various metal and carbon composite parts, the assembly of the next prototype AP3 started in the workshop in the LABS55 at Lulofsstraat in The Hague. This new version, with two fuselages, a wingspan of 12 meters and a weight of just over 400 kg, must prove the safety and autonomous operation of the system. In the past week, the wing and hulls of the aircraft were delivered – an exciting and important moment. All Ampyx Power employees put their signature on the inside of a flap (which is part of the wings) before closing it.
2019 will be the year of the AP3
In the coming period, all components of AP3 will be further assembled. The plan is to have the aircraft fully assembled after the summer, with all electronics, the sensors, the autopilot, the actuators, the propulsion system and the landing gear on board. After this integration phase, the testing can begin. This will start with taxi tests on the ground. In the following phase the AP3 will fly, under calm wind conditions with flight patterns to fine-tune the autopilot. Then, the AP3 will be shipped to Ireland to test the system in all weather conditions. Ampyx Power’s partner, energy company E.ON, will develop a demonstration site for Airborne Wind Energy concepts in County Mayo, from where an extensive test and verification campaign will be run.
Meanwhile, the up-scaled successor of AP3 is also on the drawing board: the AP4. This commercial model, that can produce no less than 2 megawatts, will be able to supply electricity to some 2,000 households in the future.
From ImpactCity The Hague we are proud to follow this beautiful scale-up in The Hague!