Blade Dynamics receives investment for new wind blade design

Britain's Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has paid £15.5 million to become an equity investor in Blade Dynamics to help the company develop 80m to 100m segmented wind blades for use in offshore applications. Blades will make significant use of carbon fiber.

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British government agency Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) announced on Jan. 7 that it has appointed Blade Dynamics (Isle of Wight, U.K. and New Orleans, La., USA) to develop and demonstrate the technologies for constructing what are expected to be the world’s longest wind turbine blades ever built.

As part of the £15.5 million ($24.9 million USD) project, the ETI will become an equity investor in the 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.

Blade Dynamics will construct blades for the ETI of 80m to 100m  (262 ft to 328 ft) in length, incorporating carbon fiber rather than fiberglass. This compares with blades now deployed offshore of between 60m to 75m in length.

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

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 expected to be carried out at a U.K. test facility. The design of the blades will see them weigh up to 40 percent less than conventional fiberglass 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 under development with a capacity of 8 MW to10 MW.

The first stage of the project will focus on blade design in collaboration with a major turbine manufacturer (OEM). The project will also test detailed design and manufacturing technologies, extending Blade Dynamics’ current experience from manufacturing 49m/161-ft blades. The second stage will establish and demonstrate the proposed manufacturing processes on blades designed for a current 6 MW turbine. A design will also be developed for blades for 8-MW to 10-MW turbines. Final project stages are intended to test and verify the prototype blade performance against predicted performance.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts says: "This investment will enable Blade Dynamics to develop and demonstrate a potentially world-leading technology. 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."

Paul Trinick, Offshore Wind project manager at the ETI says: "Offshore wind has the potential to be a much larger contributor to the U.K. energy system if today’s costs can be significantly 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. Our investment strategy here is to provide financial support to allow the company to develop its technology further, to accelerate and expand the testing of this UK technology, and to identify the large-scale development opportunity of this design approach."

David Cripps, senior technical manager at Blade Dynamics, added: "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 ultralarge 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. Our driver is to make the generation of electricity through offshore wind both more reliable and more economical. We believe longer, low weight blades to be a key part of the solution, but for such blades to be most effective we need to design their construction differently."