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Evolution Of Wind Turbine Blades


Wind Turbines

Wind turbines from the 1980's, still spinning in Palm Springs, CA.

Todd Johnson

The concept of harnessing the wind's energy has been around for thousands of years. It is estimated that the Chinese built the first wind turbines in 200 B.C. to pump water and grind grain. The first electricity generating wind turbine was developed in Scotland in the 1880's by Professor James Blyth of Anderson's College, Glasgow. Since then, wind turbines have made serious strides in technology.

At the Carbon Fiber 2010 Conference I had the chance to hear Luke Lewandowski speak, he is an adviser for MAKE Consulting. The topic was, "Intense Competition in Wind Turbine Blade Production." As modern utility scale wind turbines increase in size, new materials and manufacturing methods are required. Here are some of the main points in his discussion:

Blades are getting much larger, however, this is creating a whole new set of problems.

  • Noise issues - Bigger blades have a faster tip speed, thus are louder.
  • Transportation issues - Over 37 meters, only one blade can fit on a truck.
  • Increased manufacturing costs - Tooling and composite molds becomes complex and expensive.
  • Mechanical problems - Large blades create stress on the mechanical and gear components.

Currently, blades of 50 meters have small fraction of the market, however, by 2012, blades over 50 meters will have a large market share.

  • Offshore wind turbines will be using extremely large blades.
  • Blades over 60 meters will be a common place.
  • There is currently a 100 meter blade in development.

As blades get bigger, weight and cost needs to decrease.

  • Current construction primarily uses E-glass fiberglass.
  • But starting to use carbon and high strength carbon fiber and high strength glass fibers.
  • It is only a matter of time until carbon fiber is standard in wind blades.
  • Only Vestas and Gamesa currently using carbon fiber in wind blades.
  • Larger blades will use more robotics to provide higher quality control, and less labor.

From listening to this talk, it became clear that wind turbine technology is continuing to evolve. Using carbon fiber is the next logical step in this evolution. Manufacturing and material innovations are mandatory in making this a cost effective renewable technology.

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