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New tech makes wind turbines cheaper, lighter and sturdier

The WALiD (Wind blade using cost-effective Advanced Lightweight Design) project in conjunction with the Fraunhofer Institute, have developed lighter but sturdier wind turbine blades that could improve the technology’s efficiency and longevity.

Lowering the weight of the turbines could allow them to be assembled a lot easier as well as improve their stability — in the ocean specifically — and reduce the cost of wear and tear.

Wind turbine blades measure up to 80m in length with a rotor diameter of 160m in order to produce maximum energy yields. One drawback of these turbines is that they can be extremely heavy. In the GE 1.5-megawatt model, the assembled blade alone can weigh up to 36 tonnes. With a total weight of 164 tonnes, the amount of stress bearing down on structural components could require costly maintenance.

Wind turbines can be costly, but new methods and technologies are making them stronger and cheaper

This is where the new design comes to the fore.

“In the WALiD project, we’re pursuing a completely new blade design. We’re switching the material class and using thermoplastics in rotor blades for the first time,” said project coordinator at Fraunhofer, Florian Rapp in a blog post.

“These are meltable plastics that we can process efficiently in automated production facilities,” he continued.

The new sandwich method — using a combination of thermoplastic foams and fibre-reinforced plastics — offer greater support for the outer shell of the rotor blade as well as improved inner structural support. By ditching the use of carbon fibre (a material used by Formula 1 and the space industry) and the overall improvement of efficiency, means a lower running cost too.

These cheaper, sturdier turbine blades is also good news for the South African wind energy industry too.

To date, there are more than 400 wind farms in operation in the country. That coupled with the knowledge that they are approximately 40% cheaper than the forecasted pricing for Eskom’s new coal plants, it could be the country’s next big industry.

Featured image: Paulo Valdivieso via Flickr

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