Turning cold war into wind power

Wind turbines for the urban jungle, courtesy of underemployed Russian rocket scientists.

By Janet Rae-Dupree, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- What do you do with a Soviet-era military facility that develops submarine-launched ICBMs? A San Francisco Bay Area entrepreneur has a novel answer: Turn it into a wind-turbine research plant for his company.

Rick Halstead, president of Empire Magnetics, was doing development work with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in 2001 when he heard about the Makeyev State Rocket Center near Russia's southern border. Like a lot of former Soviet weaponry experts, the Ph.D.-level engineers who worked there had abruptly found themselves without a customer for their missile systems in the late 1980s.

So they began researching wind-power technology. Intrigued, Halstead visited the top-secret facility -- "I was one of three Americans who had ever been there," he recalls -- and helped get a grant for their work from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The result: 99 of the Makeyev engineers are now employees of Wind-Sail, an Empire spin-off based in Rohnert Park, Calif. As soon as red tape is cleared, the company will begin building vertical-axis turbines on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Wind-Sail is raising as much as $8 million to ramp up to mass production by 2008 in hopes of making a dent in the small-wind-power market, which is projected to grow to $1 billion by 2020. Top of page

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