Google hitches high-flying ride on PE balloon

By Frank Antosiewicz
Correspondent

Published: August 13, 2013 1:27 pm ET
Updated: August 13, 2013 1:32 pm ET

Image By: Raven Industries A worker prepares the 60-foot-tall Project Loon balloon for launch

Related to this story

Topics Extrusion Film & Sheet
Companies & Associations

Rising to the special needs of Google Inc., Raven Industries Inc. is supplying balloons made of ultrathin polyethylene film for a pilot study of a novel way to supply Internet service in a remote area of New Zealand.

As far-fetched as it may sound, the plan, labeled Project Loon, uses balloons designed and built by Raven's Aerostar division. The first trial involved 30 balloons and provided Internet access for an area covering roughly 3,800 square miles around Christchurch, New Zealand.

"This is a very exciting day. Solving the challenge of improved Internet access in developing nations and rural areas has the potential to improve and save lives — from improved medical care, to crisis and disaster response, to better crops for farmers struggling to feed a growing world population," said Dan Rykhus, president and CEO of Raven, in a news release.

The balloons are designed to be 60 feet tall and fly at an altitude of 66,000 feet. Teams can control the path of the balloons as they move through the sky. They can move up and down in the stratosphere to find the right speed and direction. Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has developed the software to control a fleet of the balloons.

Google said the project came about because a plan by chief technical architect Rich DeVaul proved unfeasible because of a lack of Internet access. He decided to take a look at the old idea of using balloons for communications.

However, rather than using expensive tethered balloons or stratospheric dirigibles, he aired the idea that lots of free-floating balloons might be more cost-effective. Some radio experts doubted the plan, but DeVaul's spreadsheet suggested it could work.

Raven's background with balloons dates back to the 1950s. NASA has used them to soar above 99 percent of the atmosphere. Red Bull Stratos used a Raven Aerostar zero-pressure balloon for Felix Baumgartner's historic 128,000-foot freefall from space in October.

Raven Aerostar designed and sewed the balloon envelopes, which are put together in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Sulphur Springs, Texas. Google said the rest of the hardware is built in-house or purchased from various other vendors. Raven also helped design the flight-control system, which also allows it to land safely. The design allows for the balloon to stay airborne for about 100 days.

The balloon idea is still a long way from completion, but Project Loon does offer the potential to lead to more Internet connectivity in places where the challenges and cost have been prohibitive.

Raven communications manager Kristin Tilus said typical film can become brittle in extreme cold, but the Raven material can withstand temperatures as low as minus 58° F. Raven has 1,400 employees, with about 300 working at the Engineered Films division.

Raven adds reclaim line

Raven Engineered Films, which supplies the film used for the balloons, is using a new reclaim line that was designed by ADG Solutions of Fairfield, Conn. It enables the company to recover polymers from internal use and pelletize them for re-use.

The company produces multilayer PE film for agricultural, construction, environmental and other uses. Raven had difficulty reclaiming the material that came from start-ups, job changes and edge trim, and formerly either sent it to a reclaim specialist or a landfill.

ADG Solutions used a Polycycle cascade reclaim system along with an Epic III process-control system from Davis-Standard. It supplied the shredding/conveying system, automatic screen changer and pellet-handling system.

The company said the new system can reprocess up to 15 million pounds a year.

The Engineered Films division is located in Raven's 330,000-square-foot facility in Sioux Falls, where Raven is based.


Comments

Google hitches high-flying ride on PE balloon

By Frank Antosiewicz
Correspondent

Published: August 13, 2013 1:27 pm ET
Updated: August 13, 2013 1:32 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Plastics News Now: Musicians back recycled plastics

April 16, 2015 6:00 am ET

Pharrell Williams touts recycling plastics while will.i.am helps a major hotel chain turn to sheets made with recycled plastics. Also, the Seattle...    More

Image

A. Schulman, Citadel discuss the $800 million deal

April 15, 2015 1:45 pm ET

The $800 million match of materials maker A. Schulman Inc. and Citadel Plastics felt good from the start. “Everything in our first meetings...    More

Image

Keeping the NPE 2015 momentum moving forward

April 14, 2015 2:04 pm ET

Now that the parties are over, the booths are broken down and it's back to business as usual for three years, how can plastics keep that NPE 2015...    More

Image

Material Insights: Trade groups criticize rash of force majeure declarations

April 13, 2015 11:59 am ET

As supplies tighten in Europe, trade groups question force majeure declarations, and three firms announce global expansion plans.    More

Image

Husky brings self-cleaning to injection molding

April 10, 2015 1:35 pm ET

You've heard of a self-cleaning oven. Now, Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. has come out with a self-cleaning mold.    More

Market Reports

Trends in Resin Distribution

The growth of the North American resin distribution market is undeniable - and industry analysts are confident that growth will continue in 2015 and beyond.

This new report analyzes market trends and provides data on historical sales trends for PE (distribution and resellers), PolyOne Distribution figures, U.S. ethylene expansions based on shale gas and natural gas production by category to 2035.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 billion plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 15, 2015 - September 17, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events