Researchers build a tougher, lighter wind turbine blade

Aug 30, 2011

Efforts to build larger wind turbines able to capture more energy from the air are stymied by the weight of blades. A Case Western Reserve University researcher has built a prototype blade that is substantially lighter and eight times tougher and more durable than currently used blade materials.

Marcio Loos, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, works with colleagues at Case Western Reserve, and investigators from Bayer MaterialScience in Pittsburgh, and Molded Fiber Glass Co. in Ashtabula, Ohio, comparing the properties of new materials with the current standards used in blade manufacturing.

On his own, Loos went to the lab on weekends and built the world's first polyurethane blade reinforced with carbon nanotubes. He wanted to be sure the composite that was scoring best on preliminary tests could be molded into the right shape and maintain properties.

Using a small commercial blade as a template, he manufactured a 29-inch blade that is substantially lighter, more rigid and tougher.

"The idea behind all this is the need to develop stronger and lighter materials which will enable manufacturing of blades for larger rotors," Loos said.

That's an industry goal.

In order to achieve the expansion expected in the market for wind energy, turbines need a bigger share of the wind. But, simply building larger blades isn't a smart answer.

The heavier the blades, the more wind is needed to turn the rotor. That means less energy is captured. And the more the blades flex in the wind, the more they lose the optimal shape for catching moving air, so, even less energy is captured.

Lighter, stiffer blades enable maximum energy and production.

"Results of mechanical testing for the carbon nanotube reinforced polyurethane show that this material outperforms the currently used resins for wind blades applications," said Ica Manas-Zloczower, professor of and engineering and associate dean in the Case School of Engineering.

Loos is working in the Manas-Zloczower lab where she and Chemical Engineering Professor Donald L. Feke, a vice provost at the university, serve as advisors on the project.

In a comparison of reinforcing materials, the researchers found carbon nanotubes are lighter per unit of volume than carbon fiber and aluminum and had more than 5 times the tensile strength of carbon fiber and more than 60 times that of aluminum.

Fatigue testing showed the reinforced polyurethane composite lasts about eight times longer than epoxy reinforced with fiberglass. The new material was also about eight times tougher in delamination fracture tests.

The performance in each test was even better when compared to vinyl ester reinforced with fiberglass, another material used to make blades.

The new composite also has shown fracture growth rates at a fraction of the rates found for traditional epoxy and vinyl ester composites.

Loos and the rest of the team are continuing to test for the optimal conditions for the stable dispersion of nanotubes, the best distribution within the polyurethane and methods to make that happen.

The functional prototype blades built by Loos, which were used to turn a 400-watt turbine, will be stored in our laboratory, Manas-Zloczower said. "They will be used to emphasize the significant potential of carbon nanotube reinforced polyurethane systems for use in the next generation of wind turbine ."

Explore further: Minimally invasive surgery with hydraulic assistance

Related Stories

Extreme testing for rotor blades

Apr 01, 2011

Wind turbines are growing bigger and bigger – the diameter of their rotor blades could soon reach 180 meters. But that creates a need for larger test rigs capable of accommodating the blades for load ...

Smart wind turbines can predict the wind

Jan 05, 2010

Risø DTU researchers have recently completed the world’s first successful test on a wind turbine with a laser-based anemometer built into the spinner in order to increase electricity generation.

Noise research to combat 'wind turbine syndrome'

Jun 01, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Adelaide acoustics researchers are investigating the causes of wind turbine noise with the aim of making them quieter and solving 'wind turbine syndrome'.

Recommended for you

Desktop device to make key gun part goes on sale in US

2 hours ago

The creator of the world's first 3D plastic handgun unveiled Wednesday his latest invention: a pre-programmed milling machine that enables anyone to easily make the core component of a semi-automatic rifle.

Minimally invasive surgery with hydraulic assistance

9 hours ago

Endoscopic surgery requires great manual dexterity on the part of the operating surgeon. Future endoscopic instruments equipped with a hydraulic control system will provide added support during minimally ...

Analyzing gold and steel – rapidly and precisely

10 hours ago

Optical emission spectrometers are widely used in the steel industry but the instruments currently employed are relatively large and bulky. A novel sensor makes it possible to significantly reduce their size ...

More efficient transformer materials

11 hours ago

Almost every electronic device contains a transformer. An important material used in their construction is electrical steel. Researchers have found a way to improve the performance of electrical steel and ...

Sensor network tracks down illegal bomb-making

11 hours ago

Terrorists can manufacture bombs with relative ease, few aids and easily accessible materials such as synthetic fertilizer. Not always do security forces succeed in preventing the attacks and tracking down ...

Miniature camera may reduce accidents

11 hours ago

Measuring only a few cubic millimeters, a new type of camera module might soon be integrated into future driver assistance systems to help car drivers facing critical situations. The little gadget can be ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

hyongx
4 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
cool! straight from the labs to energy applications. good stuff.
Justsayin
1 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
Combine this new technology with this breakthrough and you could have a home run. http://www.physor...wer.html
p_hud
1 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
Now we can chop up eagles more efficiently than ever!
Eikka
not rated yet Aug 30, 2011
Now to invent a polyurethane that isn't produced from oil.
Shelgeyr
1 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
It sounds like a very expensive blade. This is not a criticism, because early adopters always pay more, and one-off projects/prototypes are always scandalously costly.

I want one. OK, make that 3, 8, 10, 12 or whatever number makes for the best turbine configuration. Sounds marvelous. But I'll admit to being at least slightly curious about what the projected pay-back times look like once 1) production starts and 2) the resulting non-early-adopter-prices fall to a stable level.

Good work! And that's from someone who is not a "wind" guy.
Burnerjack
5 / 5 (1) Sep 05, 2011
It would seem to me that "structural" is just that. Translation? There must be a gazillion other applications besides windmill blades.