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Clean Power concrete wind turbine tower

Published on November 19th, 2015 | by Tina Casey


Warren Buffett Gives A Gigantic Concrete Wind Turbine Tower To Iowa

November 19th, 2015 by  

It’s not often that we get a chance to combine Warren Buffett with the topic of concrete wind turbine towers, so we pricked up our ears earlier this week when the legendary investor’s MidAmerican Energy Company announced that its new Iowa wind farm will include a 2.3 megawatt wind turbine perched atop a tower made of concrete. At 377 feet from ground to hub, the tower will top most conventional, steel-tube towers by more than 100 feet, easily making it the tallest in the US.

As wind energy fans know, all this racing to erect the tallest wind turbine tower isn’t just for bragging rights for the tallest er, tower. Winds are stronger and steadier at higher altitudes, ensuring a more reliable input while potentially reducing the cost of the electricity generated.

concrete wind turbine tower

Why A Concrete Wind Turbine Tower

Before we get to that, let’s pause for an update on a separate collaboration between Siemens and Iowa State University with a financial assist from the Department of Energy, so group hug all you taxpayers.

CleanTechnica first caught wind of the project in 2013. At that time the typical steel wind turbine tower clocked in at about 80 meters, and the engineers at Iowa State set a relatively modest goal of increasing that by at least 20 meters, to achieve a wind turbine tower height of at least 100 meters.

We checked in on the project again in 2014, when we noted a couple of reasons why concrete makes sense for wind turbine towers in some situations, despite the issue of carbon emissions related to cement production (cement is a component of concrete).

The US has a thriving domestic concrete industry and Iowa also has a strong homegrown cement industry, which would reduce shipping costs and shipping emissions for turbine towers. More to the point, concrete wind turbine towers can be assembled on site from relatively small components.

In contrast, each section of a tubular steel tower needs to fit in, over, and around existing bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure. With the size of the lowermost section limited, the ripple effect is to limit the height of the tower to — you guessed it — about 80 meters.

Why A Hexcrete Wind Turbine Tower

As one of the world’s top wind turbine manufacturers, Siemens is naturally interested in something bigger and better upon which to park its bigger, better wind turbines, so the partnership with Iowa State is a natural. As described by Siemens, the mission of the “Hexcrete Tower for Harvesting Wind Energy at Taller Hub Heights” collaboration is:

…to create a new wind turbine tower design and manufacturing concept for harvesting wind energy at 120 to 140 meter rotor hub heights, and reducing the per-kilowatt-hour cost of building and operating wind towers in the United States. CT US is performing design analysis and optimization for the wind tower designs that are created for this effort.

Siemens has considered steel components with vertical instead of horizontal seams, but determined that in light of the engineering and quality control factors, the potential payoff for concrete was more attractive.

The company’s Wind Power and Renewables division has provided an assist in the form of 3D modeling, and other support aimed at coming up with a cost-effective design. “Hexcrete” refers to the tower sections, consisting of concrete panels and columns hooked together by cables to form hexagons.

Iowa State updated the wind turbine tower project just last week with news that cross sections of the tower have been sailing through their stress tests.

Here’s a rundown on the funding from Iowa State:

Current research and development of the Hexcrete towers is supported by an 18-month, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, a grant of $83,500 from the Iowa Energy Center and $22,500 of in-kind contributions from Lafarge North America Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The project’s industry partners also include the Siemens Corp.’s Corporate Technology center in Princeton, New Jersey; Coreslab Structures (OMAHA) Inc. of Bellevue, Nebraska; and BergerABAM of Federal Way, Washington.

A Concrete Wind Turbine Tower For Iowa

Now for the Warren Buffett connection. It looks like MidAmerican Energy is confident enough about the concept to engage Siemens for constructing the new concrete wind turbine tower on a prototype basis, as part of the 64-turbine, 154-megawatt Adams wind farm now under construction.

Completion of the wind farm is expected by the end of this year so we’ll be sure keep watch for any updates once the blades start spinning.

Consistent with the overall goal of the project, both the concrete work and the turbine blades are coming from Iowa manufacturers, with the blades from Siemens’s own factory in Fort Adams.

Thanks to MidAmerican, the Fort Adams factory lays claim to the world’s largest single order of wind turbines, a 448-unit behemoth put in back in 2013, as part of the company’s $1.billion wind energy investment in Iowa.

The timing of the massive order was perfect. In 2012 the factory had to lay off hundreds of workers partly due to uncertainty over extension of the federal Production Tax Credit for wind, but the credit was restored in 2013 (thanks, Terry!) and things seem to be humming along with the MidAmerican order.

So…what was all that fuss about “losing” Keystone XL pipeline jobs?

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Photo credit: “Hexacrete” wind turbine tower section testing via Iowa State University.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Larry

    All those haters of Warren Buffet need to eat a little crow

  • Bob_Wallace

    Mexico has put up towers with 140 meter hub height. Concrete sections that are stacked on top of each other. Gets around the problem of trucking very large steel tower sections to the site.

  • Matt

    A great picture of a massive shake table and it doesn’t even get a title on the picture? Oh Tina for the love of engineering.

  • TinaCasey

    Tx for the catch — put down feet when I meant meters in that later paragraph (MidAmerican’s info for its turbine is in feet). Average height of typical wind turbines installed in 2013 was just under 80 meters (not feet!), or about 260 feet.

    • Mark Gutting-Kilzer

      Please provide dual dimensions for us uninitiated in metric (myself included) and to help capture conversions errors.

  • nakedChimp

    Any picture?
    When do they do octacrete or decacrete?
    Is dodecacrete and icosacrete registered yet?
    Mindboggling.. in just a couple of decades we will be buildung hexacontacrete towers. Insane!

  • heinbloed

    Concrete towers are frequently used in Europe, the lower section being concrete and the upper, smaller section being steel.



    • Ulenspiegel

      That would be a hybrid tower. 🙂

  • vensonata

    Meters, feet, mixed up. By the way, why do Americans use meters instead of yards when referring to wind turbine towers?

  • Marion Meads

    There is a chasm of difference between “Gives” and “Invests”!!!

    • I agree. Tina’s doing her classic headline here. It doesn’t look like Buffett gave anything to anybody. Just because a holding company Buffett is CEO of (Berkshire Hathaway) and majority owner holds a power company (Mid America) makes a grant to a public university (taxpayer supported) spurred by DoE (federal taxpayer funded), doesn’t make it a gift. I’ll tell you one thing, if you need good PR copy there’s nobody better. Tina probably should have said it was a gift from Marion Meads or me and the story would have had been equally true.

  • Martin

    Anybody interested in watching one of these build, one the last Giga factory article on Cleantechnica there is a post of one of these done in Germany (is is in German only) but the size and scope of one of these does not need translating.

  • rockfish66

    ” the typical steel wind turbine tower clocked in at about 80 feet, and
    the engineers at Iowa State set a relatively modest goal of increasing
    that by at least 20 feet”

    I think you mean meters, not feet?

    • Ronald Brakels

      Yes, it should definitely be meters, not feet, and as a result of this unit confusion I estimate these wind tubines have now missed mars by over 59 million kilometers.

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