Patent for high speed blade making -- Australian wood epoxy venture

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An Australian newcomer to the wind power blade business has patented a high speed process for mass production of wood-epoxy blades which he says have both weight and flexibility advantages over their glass fibre and composite competitors. Paul Hutchinson, a former commercial pilot, says he turned down an offer "from a major international windmill manufacturer" for the patented production process, preferring to start a blade production line in Australia.

He is now seeking the level of commercial interest there might be in the Australian financial sector in a blade building company with "proprietary rights to the intellectual property of well proven large blade building technology and utilising the patent for high speed mass production of blades." Hutchinson, however, declines to explain how his manufacturing process differs from those in use today or to name the wind company interested in the patent.

British advice

A veteran British blade expert, Jim Platts, has been advising Hutchinson on the project. "There's a way to go yet but there is the possibility of more of a fresh sheet of paper approach than Europe, which opens up some interesting possibilities both on the design and the manufacturing side, which offer significant cost reductions but are not being explored as much as they might be currently," he says. Platts is a lecturer with the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University and is currently providing input into the manufacturing processes for the next generation of Airbus wings.

Hutchinson says he is confident there will be interest in funding a blade building venture, especially after the passing of Australia's new law to boost the use of renewables by 2% (Windpower Monthly, January 2001). The town of Millicent in the southeast of South Australia is the likely location of the production facility. There is an established pine plantation industry in the area able to provide the timber resources required, says Hutchinson. The plan is to start production of 33 metre blades followed by 40 metre versions.

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