2022: Innovations that could shape the wind industry

Windpower Monthly rounds up a handful of the innovations the wind industry is exploring that could help shape it in the years to come.

From the prototypes which will make floating wind commercially viable in the future to novel ways of producing turbines and towers, the wind industry is a hotbed of cutting-edge innovation.

Floating offshore wind

Image: Jan Oelker/aerodyn-engineering

Momentum continued for the nascent floating offshore wind tender, with developers setting their sights on new projects worldwide, auctions mapped out or completed, and manufacturers unveiling new platform designs and inched towards commercialisation.

New designs from Fred Olsen 1848, SeaTwirl, and BW Ideol are due to undergo further testing with a view to being commercially available in the middle of the decade.

Further ahead are Aerodyn Engineering with its Nezzy2 platform, Saitec, and X1 Wind, which launched pilot projects in open waters this year. 

Meanwhile, developers announced plans for arrays off Brazil, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK and the US.

Governments also announced plans for tenders off Canada, Greece, and Taiwan, and held auction rounds off California and Scotland.

And companies with deeper pockets backed floating specialists, with Technip Energies buying into X1 Wind, Eni supporting EnerOcean, Acciona teaming up with Eolink, General Motors giving Wind Catching Systems a boost, and UAE engineer Ferrofab joining forces with Gazelle Wind Power

However, analysts warned that policy inaction – a lack of clear policies and permitting and regulatory frameworks – present a greater obstacle to floating wind than supply chain bottlenecks.

Read more: Exclusive: Radical 16.6MW Nezzy2 twin floating offshore wind platform takes shape in China

Blade recycling

Image: Siemens Gamesa

The wind power industry continued to pursue solutions to the chemical waste problem caused by the disposing of blades at the end of their useful lifetime.

After a year of material development and testing, a French research consortium featuring GE-owned LM Wind Power launched a 62-metre, fully recyclable blade. The group uses automation to reduce energy consumption and waste during production.

On the processing side, Iberdrola unveiled plans for a €10 million blade recycling plant in Spain, expecting the first stage of the facility to be operational by 2024. It claimed it will be “Europe’s first industrial-scale wind turbine blade recycling plant”.

And turbines using Siemens Gamesa’s recyclable blades produced first power at RWE’s Kaskasi offshore wind farm, while the manufacturer received further orders to supply its blades at Vattenfall’s Hollandse Kust Zuid project in the Dutch North Sea and EDF’s Calvados project in French waters. The manufacturer also expanded its offering of recyclable blades, launching a modified version of its technology for its onshore turbine models.

Meanwhile, research into blade recycling continued, with Michigan State University researchers responsible for one of the more surprising developments this year – producing a new composite resin for wind turbine blades that can be recycled into new blades, or even eaten.

Read more: Siemens Gamesa launches recyclable blades for onshore wind turbines

3D-printing

Image: Goldwind

Turbine manufacturers are starting to turn their attention to the potential benefits of 3D printing technology as a production method. GE made an investment in Cobod International this year to explore how to 3D print the concrete base of wind turbine towers.

Meanwhile, Goldwind has also claimed a breakthrough in this area by using solid waste recycled from retired turbine blades in 3D printing techniques.

The company produced a set of flower beds using crushed blade particles and experimented with the size and gradation of the materials and claimed that the finished product was as durable as concrete.

Read more: Goldwind claims breakthrough in 3D printing from recycled wind turbine blades

Modular wooden towers

Image: Modvion

Sustainable wind industry pioneer Modvion is building turbine towers made from laminated wood, which the company claims could reduce the carbon emissions associated with producing a turbine by 30%, compared with towers made from steel or concrete.

The company claimed that its modular towers, which are easier to transport by road, are stronger than steel at the same weight. Modvion has already built a 30-metre prototype but it is working on one which will be 100 metres tall, making it the world’s tallest wooden tower.

Read more: RES signs ten-year deal with innovative wooden wind tower firm

Wooden turbine blades

Image: Stora Enso

As if wooden towers were not enough, renewable materials firm Stora Enso and Voodin Blades are producing turbine blades made from wood as an alternative to carbon fibre and fibreglass.

Stora Enso said the partnership was devised to find an innovative solution to replace “less environmentally-friendly materials” with renewable products made from wood. The companies said that, in addition to their low carbon footprint and high load-bearing capacity, wooden blades were comparatively easy to transport without the use of heavy equipment. They have produced a 20 metre blade and are working on producing an 80 metre one.

Read more: Firms to produce wooden turbine blades to give wind industry ‘sustainable future’

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