Last year GE unleashed a coal-killing monster wind turbine, billed as the largest and most efficient in the world. The only thing missing was the turbine blades. Big ones. Like, bigger than any other turbine blades. Well, miss no more. The new ultra-long turbine blades are taking form at a factory in France, and the first one is almost ready for its closeup.
World’s Longest Turbine Blades From LM Wind
When GE announced the new Haliade-X 12 MW wind turbine last year, the company anticipated pairing it with the world’s longest ever turbine blades, at 107 meters.
GE put its LM Wind Power turbine blade manufacturing branch to the record-breaking task. GE acquired the company in 2017, and LM already had a bit of experience in shattering records for turbine length.
Back in 2004, LM Wind produced the world’s first blade to crack the 60-meter barrier. It followed up with two other record breakers including a 88.4-meter blade in 2016.
Wind Turbine Blades From Wood
So, here’s the crazy thing. If you were trying to guess what kind of materials are going into the new turbine blades, carbon fiber would be a good guess. Glass might come in second, and you get brownie points if you guessed that the new blade is a combo of carbon fiber and glass.
What else? Oh right, wood. That’s right. LM Wind Power started life in the 1940s building wooden furniture, so it’s just a short skip and a jump to using wood in wind turbines, right?
Think boat-building and fiberglass, and you’re on the right track. LM’s wind turbines are made from a base of fiberglass and balsa wood, held together with resin and coating.
So, interesting. Who knew that balsa wood is a high performance material? Basically, everyone. Balsa is a perfect material for wind turbine blades due to its low weight and high stiffness relative to density.
Balsa wood is not just an LM Wind Power thing. It’s a fairly standard material in turbine blade manufacturing, which leads to the question of supply chain sustainability.
That’s a pretty tight supply chain. Ecuador currently fulfills all but 5% of global balsa wood demand, so the hunt for a sustainable alternative is on.
A suitable alternative that costs less than balsa would be nice goal to strive for, since balsa is relatively expensive. Researchers also anticipate that a uniform balsa substitute would improve performance compared to natural balsa.
Coal-Killing Wooden Wind Turbine Blades
CleanTechnica is reaching out to GE to see if the company is exploring the synthetic balsa alternative angle, so stay tuned for more on that.
Meanwhile, a prototype version of the Haliade-X 12 MW turbine is getting a workout on land this year, in Rotterdam (land = ease of access, in case you’re wondering), so stay tuned for more on that.
As for the irony of wood killing coal, if you have any thoughts about that drop us a note in the comment thread.
The whole point of producing ever-longer wind turbine blades is to improve performance and efficiency, leading to reduced costs.
That’s bad news for both coal and natural gas.
The 107-meter blades are an element in the 63% capacity factor that GE claims for the Haliade-X 12 MW wind turbine. According to GE that translates into somewhere between five and seven points higher than the current industry standard, with each point representing approximately $7 million in revenue over the lifespan of the wind farm.
Wind Power In The USA
GE’s in-operation timeline of 2021 for the new Haliade-X dovetails perfectly with the sudden acceleration of the US offshore wind sector.
Plans for tapping the country’s Atlantic coast wind resources were first laid during the Obama administration in 2010, but due to a confluence of cost, technology, and politics (okay, so mostly politics), only one little five-turbine offshore wind farm in Rhode Island got off the drawing board.
The past two years have seen a sea change, so to speak. The world’s leading wind developers are snapping up US offshore leases and setting new bid records all up and down the Atlantic coast, and the US Department of Energy has set up a national public-private consortium to funnel wind R&D into the market.
If all goes according to plan, within the next few years hundreds of offshore wind turbines could be dotting the Atlantic coast, and they will all need new turbine blades.
I know, right? Weird! US President* Donald J. Trump is well known for his antipathy toward wind power (looking at you, Scotland). Nevertheless, the Energy Department has been talking up the US wind industry nonstop regardless, and the Interior Department has also been promoting the lease program.
What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, for fossil fuel stakeholders.
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Photo: via LM Wind Power.