The markets: Renewable energy (2011)

 Wind power is the world’s fastest growing energy source (renewable or otherwise) and the source of the composites industry's fastest growing market for its materials. Production of electric power from tidal turbines offers another promising market.

As demand on finite petroleum reserves and the price of the fuels derived from them continues to rise, renewable forms of energy are becoming more attractive and cost-effective. The fastest growing segment (renewable or otherwise) is wind energy. However, installations were down significantly in the U.S. during 2010, after massive investments in 2008 and 2009. Growth was hampered by the lack of long-term U.S. energy policies, says the American Wind Energy Assn. (AWEA, Washington, D.C.). Despite the current U.S. downturn, wind turbines now produce more than 2 percent of global electricity, and installations increased by nearly 25 percent in 2009, led by huge growth in China. As a result, the giant rotor blades on the turbines have become the composites industry’s fastest growing fiber-reinforced polymer application. During 2009, 36,676 MW of wind power was installed worldwide, for a total installed capacity of approximately 159,000 MW, says The Windpower database (Buc, France, The World Wind Energy Assn. (WWEA, Bonn, Germany) expects that number to be more than 200,000 MW at the end of 2010.

Assuming an average turbine size of between 2.5 and 3 MW, the 2009 total represents about 13,300 turbines, or almost 40,000 blades, because nearly all turbines have three blades. This represents more than 700 million lb (318,000 metric tonnes) of composite blade structure, making wind blade manufacturing one of the largest single applications of engineered composites in the world.

Published sources say that China has doubled its wind power capacity every year since 2006. At least 40 Chinese companies are now making wind turbines and blades, says the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Assn. (CREIA).

Renewable energy isn’t just about wind. Other composites markets include marine power sources, including wave and tidal energy generators. Marine Current Turbines Ltd.’s (Bristol, U.K.) 1.2-MW tidal energy generator in Strangford Narrows (Northern Ireland) is operating and has delivered more than 800 MW to the U.K. national power grid. The SeaGen project includes twin 16m/52-ft diameter two-bladed rotors made from composites. New concepts include Pulse Tidal’s (Sheffield, U.K.) oscillating turbines near the Isle of Skye and Ocean Renewable Power Co.’s (Portland, Maine) cross-flow tidal turbine, which services the Eastport, Maine Coast Guard station.

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