New Wind Turbine Blades from Hi Tec Fabric
December 4, 2012
The latest round of ARPA-E grants was just announced and among the 66 cleantech projects that received funding was GE’s latest wind technology development: fabric wind turbine blades. When I first read this, I was imagining something that looked like sails, but the structure of the blade will remain pretty much the same except instead of fiberglass, a super-strong architectural fabric will be wrapped around the blade frame.
According to GE, this swap will allow for turbine blades that perform just as well, but can be made on site for a much lower cost — up to 40 percent less.
From an energy generation standpoint, the use of fabric, which is lighter than fiberglass, would allow for the production of much longer blades. Longer blades can capture even more of the wind’s energy.
The press release explains,”GE’s research will focus on the use of architectural fabrics, which would be wrapped around a metal spaceframe, resembling a fishbone. Fabric would be tensioned around ribs which run the length of the blade and specially designed to meet the demands of wind blade operations. Conventional wind blades are constructed out of fiberglass, which is heavier and more labor and time-intensive to manufacture.”
· New manufacturing approach could reduce blade production costs by up to 40%
· Would make wind energy as economical as fossil fuels without government subsidies
· Will pave the way to longer blades that exceed 130 meters
NISKAYUNA, NY – November 28, 2012 – In a move that could put wind energy on equal economic footing with traditional fossil fuels, GE (NYSE: GE), Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will begin work on a project that could fundamentally change the way wind blades are designed, manufactured and installed.
With most of the cost of electricity for wind tied up in the initial capital investments made in the wind turbines themselves, new technology advancements that reduce these costs could substantially lower the overall cost of wind energy.
“GE’s weaving an advanced wind blade that could be the fabric of our clean energy future,” said Wendy Lin, a GE Principal Engineer and leader on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) project. “The fabric we’re developing will be tough, flexible, and easier to assemble and maintain. It represents a clear path to making wind even more cost competitive with fossil fuels.”
It’s estimated that to achieve the national goal of 20% wind power in the U.S., wind blades would need to grow by 50% — a figure that would be virtually impossible to realize given the size constraints imposed by current technology. Lighter fabric blades could make this goal attainable.
“Developing larger wind blades is the key to expanding wind energy into areas we wouldn’t think of today as suitable for harvesting wind power. Tapping into moderate wind speed markets, in places like the Midwest, will only help grow the industry in the years to come,” Lin went on to say.
The use of fabrics to reduce weight and provide a cost-effective cover dates back to the World War I era, when it was used on airplanes. Over the years fabric has proved to be rugged and reliable and GE has already begun using this spaceframe/tension fabric design in the construction of wind towers for better aesthetics, cost, and protection.