Wetzel Blade wins NREL award for breakthrough blade concept

New space frame design using prefab pultruded spars claims low-cost transport and field assembly, increased production capacity and longer service life vs. current composite blades.

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Wetzel Blade (Pflugerville, Texas) was among the winners of the 2014 Clean Energy Venture Awards at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE, Washington, D.C.) at the 2014 National Renewable Energy Laboratory's 28th NREL Industry Growth Forum (Oct. 28-29, Denver, Colo.). The startup company was presented with the Outstanding Venture award for its prefabricated, field-assembled turbine blade that boosts production capacity and outlasts current generation composite blades, featuring a space frame design and independently fabricated pultruded composite spars. The parts are reportedly sized for easy transport and field-assembly, similar to high reliability military equipment.

Wetzel Blade founder/CTO Kyle Wetzel claims its blades are easy to transport vs. current generation blades, which are fully assembled in large factories and then transported in one piece to wind farm sites. In the U.S., 58m/190-ft long blades are the longest that can be transported like this, using supersized hauling equipment with specially permitted escort vehicles, all of which generally totals up to 5 percent of final installed turbine cost.

"This concept emerged from a project that our parent company, Wetzel Engineering, was involved with in China,” notes Wetzel. “We were engineering a 100m/328-ft blade for a 10MW turbine and wanted to eliminate shell panel buckling as a design driver. The balsa requirements presented another challenge – almost 10,000 kg/22,046 lb of this expensive core material absorbing ~6,000kg/13,227 lb of epoxy."

Wetzel adds, “Because of our involvement with the entire turbine lifecycle, we understand that to make a real shift in the economics, a blade design must generate more electricity, cost less to build and maintain, and be more efficient to transport and install. The industry is hungry for a solution that delivers on all those points."

Wetzel Blade is currently in the structural testing phase with plans to demonstrate a sub-scale prototype in early 2015.  The project has been partially funded through a DOE Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR/STTR) award.