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Analysis - ETI's quest for a next generation offshore blade

UK: The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), a public-private partnership between BP, Caterpillar, EDF, E.on, Rolls Royce, Shell and the UK government, has brought in a wind turbine manufacturer to work on its plan to build a next generation offshore blade.

Blade Dynamics' blade root technology
Blade Dynamics' blade root technology

Speaking to Windpower Monthly, ETI programme manager offshore Andrew Scott said the company was working with a wind turbine manufacturer with a view to testing the blade, currently being developed by segmented blade specialist Blade Dynamics.

Scott said the plan was to test an 80-metre blade next year, with the view to installation beyond that. He was unable to reveal the name of the turbine manufacturer brought in for the testing phase, although the ETI is currently working with Alstom on the development of a floating platform for the latter's 6MW Haliade turbine.

The ETI was originally appointed by the UK government in 2011 to design a 90-metre blade. At the time, the company said the aim was to produce a blade for an 8-10MW turbine, the most economical according to the group at the time.

Last year, it went on to appoint Anglo-American firm Blade Dynamics to design a 100-metre component. Blade Dynamics's main product is a 48-metre blade split into easy-to-handle individual components that can fit into standard 40-foot containers. The blades are unique due to the company's patented ultra-thin blade root technology.

Back in 2011, the longest blade had barely gone above 70 metres. However, since then the record has been broken repeatedly with LM Windpower and Siemens both going beyond this mark with 73 metres and 75 metres respectively. Now Vestas and Euros/Mitsubishi have broken the 80 metre boundary with blades for the V164 and SeaAngel turbines. These all come in one section.

Scott dismissed the view that ETI's project is being overtaken by these components. He said the aim was to take Blade Dynamics modular technology and apply it to create a new platform that is "lighter and more precise" than current designs.

Additionally, the more transportable modular design would be suitable for offshore sites. Beyond this, he said, the blade would be increased to 100 metres and beyond.

Overall, the aim is produce a new blade platform that will go beyond the 80-100-metre length while offering a greater performance and lower capital expenditure, but this will take time.

Meanwhile, Blade Dynamics is not the only blade manufacturer to produce a modular design. Earlier this year, it was announced that US company Modular Wind, which had developed a 50-metre segmented blade, had been put up for sale by its private-equity owners.

However, although the ETI's project is backed by the UK government, Scott said it is unlikely the new blade design will be available for Round 3 offshore projects. Design boundaries have already been pushed back around 20% in the last two years, so the question now is not only where the offshore market will be post-2015, but also whether the blade will be ahead of its competitors by the time it is put into production.

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