GE begins work on advanced wind turbine blade technology

US electrics company GE is to team up with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop advanced wind turbine blade technology that could put wind energy on an equal economic footing with fossil fuels, GE have announced.

"GE's weaving an advanced wind blade that could be the fabric of our clean energy future," said Wendy Lin, a GE principal engineer and leader on the US Department of Energy's advanced research projects agency (ARPA-E) project. "The fabric we're developing will be tough, flexible, and easier to assemble and maintain. It represents a clear path to making wind even more cost competitive with fossil fuels."

The $5.6 million ARPA-E project will span three years. According to GE, this new blade design could reduce blade costs 25%-40%, making wind energy as economical as fossil fuels without government subsidies.

GE's research will focus on the use of architectural fabrics, as opposed to conventional fibreglass, which would be wrapped around a metal “space frame”, resembling a fishbone. Fabric would be tensioned around ribs which run the length of the blade and specially designed to meet the demands of wind blade operations.

Advancements in blade technology will help spur the development of larger, lighter turbines that can capture more wind at lower wind speeds, and allow for rotor diameters in excess of the current limit of 120 metres.

“Wider, longer wind blades are tougher to move and manoeuvre, and moulds which form the clamshell fiberglass structure cost millions of dollars to acquire,” GE said. “GE's new fabric-based technology would all but eliminate these barriers.”

According to GE, the new approach to making wind blades would enable components to be built and assembled on site, meaning engineers would no longer need to design turbines according to manufacturing and transportation limitations.

"Developing larger wind blades is the key to expanding wind energy into areas we wouldn't think of today as suitable for harvesting wind power. Tapping into moderate wind speed markets, in places like the Midwest, will only help grow the industry in the years to come," Lin went on to say.

The news comes as Cartier Wind Energy, a joint venture between TransCanada and Innergex, commissioned Canada’s largest onshore wind farm so far, the 211 MW second phase of Gros-Morne wind farm in Quebec, which utilised 77 of GE’s 1.5-77 wind turbines.

Hydro-Québec has purchased the electricity produced by the wind farm under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

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