Work begins on world’s largest wind turbine blades

Posted on 17 Jan 2013 by Tim Brown

The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has invested £15.5m in a new turbine blade design and appointed Blade Dynamics to develop what are expected to be the world's longest wind turbine blades ever built.

As part of the £15.5 million project the ETI will become an equity investor in the Isle of Wight-based blade developer – helping with technology development and allowing the company to grow its workforce by up to a third in the short to medium term.

This is the second time in 12 months that the ETI has undertaken a private equity investment in a UK SME developing innovative new technologies.

Blade Dynamics will construct blades for the ETI of between 80 to 100 metres in length, incorporating carbon fibre rather than conventional fibre glass. This compares with blades now deployed offshore of between 60 to 75 metres in length.

The ETI,  commissioned and funded project will be delivered using BladeDynamics’ innovative design and manufacturing processes that construct blades through the assembly of smaller and easily manufactured component pieces, rather than from extremely large and expensive full-length mouldings.

According to Paul Trinick, offshore wind project manager at the ETI, offshore wind has the capacity to a much greater contribution to the UK energy mix if today’s costs can be reduced.

“Investing in this project to develop larger, more efficient blades is a key step for the whole industry in paving the way for more efficient turbines, which will in turn help bring the costs of generating electricity down. Along with improved system reliability, the impact of larger blades is a crucial factor in helping to bring down the costs of generating electricity offshore.” Mr Trinick said.

The project will see prototype blades manufactured, and in a position to be put into production by late 2014. Structural testing for the first blade is then expected to be carried out at a UK test facility.

The design of the blades will see them weigh up to 40% less than conventional glass-fibre blades, enabling significant weight and cost savings to be achieved throughout the rest of the turbine system. The design will also help to reduce the cost of the energy produced.

The intended end use for the blade technology is on the next generation of large offshore wind turbines currently under development with a capacity of 8 to 10MW. This compares with the 5-6MW capacity turbines currently deployed offshore.

David Cripps, senior technical manager, at Blade Dynamics said: “We have worked hard on the design of this blade technology for a number of years now. Financial backing from the ETI for this project allows deployment on ultra-large turbines far sooner than would otherwise have been possible and as a result of this project we will be hiring new engineers and technologists to make this possible.”

Project plan

The first stage of the project will focus on blade design in collaboration with a major OEM turbine manufacturer. The project will also test detailed design and manufacturing technologies, extending Blade Dynamics’ current experience from manufacturing 49 metre blades.

The second stage will establish and demonstrate the proposed manufacturing processes on blades designed for a current 6MW turbine. A design will also be developed for blades for future 8 to 10MW turbines. Final project stages are intended to test and verify the prototype blade performance against the predicted performance.

The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) is a public-private partnership between global industries – BP, Caterpillar, EDF, E.ON, Rolls-Royce and Shell – and the UK Government.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “The project could vastly improve the manufacturing process of very large turbine blades, as well as helping to reduce the cost of the energy generated. It shows Britain is leading the way in developing innovative solutions to help with the transition to a low carbon economy.”