Inventors and visionaries are busy creating unusual and innovative ways to use hot air balloons. Here, we take a peek at what they have been up to:
Solar powered balloons
Conventional hot air balloons use propane gas burners to heat the air inside the balloon in order to make it fly. However, systems are being developed that use solar power to heat the air instead of gas. A prototype solar powered balloon was recently demonstrated at the International Balloon Festival in Bristol in August 2015; the balloon has a standard gas burner as back up, but the demonstration flight was performed using solar power alone.
Hot air balloons that generate power
Ian Edwards in Australia is developing a way for hot air balloons to generate enough energy to power ten homes. Free energy is first generated using solar panels, and this is used to inflate a hot air balloon. As the balloon rises to three kilometres, it pulls on a tether and sets it spinning to power an electricity generator. As the balloon returns to earth it continues to generate electricity. This system is suitable for places with lots of sunshine.
Balloon trips to space
World View Enterprises is designing hot air balloons that will take passengers to the edge of space. This will provide a more affordable way of experiencing the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere than rocket-powered trips. Passengers will ride in a comfortable capsule suspended beneath the balloon, which takes several hours to rise to almost twenty miles high above the earth. From there, passengers can spend two hours enjoying breathtaking panoramic views of planet Earth, before gently descending back to the surface.
Project Loon is a division of Google that uses unmanned hot air balloons to provide internet access for remote areas. Balloons are deployed twenty kilometres above the ground, with each one providing internet coverage for an area of about forty kilometres in diameter. The balloons can also provide mobile phone access. A pilot scheme has been successfully carried out in New Zealand’s South Island, and further tests are planned.
London-based designers Seymourpowell have come up with a new form of transport, the Aircruse, which is a 265-metre octahedral structure powered by four hydrogen-filled sails. Passengers are housed in luxury accommodation to enjoy a long flight at various heights from above the clouds to a few hundred feet above the ground.
Innovators are making sure that the future is bright for hot air balloons.