Wind Tech: Blade research - Innovative solutions to boost efficiency

The wind energy industry is working hard to make blades lighter, stronger, more efficient and cheaper to produce. Among papers presented at the recent Innovative International Composites Summit in Paris, France, were a series focused on innovations in blade manufacturing and repair, presented by Gamesa, Repower, ABB, Siemens, composite materials supplier Gurit and a consortium led by the University of Nottingham, UK.

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ABB's paper focused on production techniques for wind turbine blades and its automated rotor-blade painting process as well as techniques for improving surface finish and ensuring that the process is environmentally friendly. The University of Nottingham's paper also discussed the cost advantages of using automation for turbine blade production.

Siemens and Gurit, in a joint paper, described a new ultraviolet curing system for blade repairs that has certification from Germanischer Lloyd. The technique is designed to reduce downtime when damage to blades requires repair. Gurit has extended the lower range of temperatures at which repairs can be carried out down to 5 degsC using ultraviolet light generated by a special lamp. The company claims that this reduces the time needed for structural repairs by more than 50% and that no further curing process is required.

Shortly after the conference, Gamesa announced it is opening a new research facility in Singapore, one of five R&D sites it will open this year. The others will be in the US, India, the UK and Brazil. The company aims to increase engineering hours to 1.5 million hours per year and double its R&D staff by 2013.

Gamesa expects its Singapore research laboratory to employ more than 30 engineers by 2014. Among its first projects - in conjunction with the National University of Singapore - Gamesa will investigate methods for monitoring composite materials using embedded sensors and will assess their industrial applications. In addition, with the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Gamesa will gauge the performance of turbine blades' carbon-fibre polymers after nano-reinforcements are incorporated to lend them added strength.

Gamesa's research programme is part of a plan to cut its customers' cost of energy by 20% by 2013 and by 30% by 2015 through the introduction of new products and the development of new applied technologies, maintenance and other improvements.

With other manufacturers known to be working on the aerofoil sections used for blades, further improvements in wind turbine efficiency and availability are likely to be realised before long.

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