3M revives composites focus as part of recent renewable energy initiative

Formally commissioned in February 2009, the Renewable Energy Division at 3M (St. Paul, MInn.) briefed the trade press in July on numerous division developments during the past 18 months.

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Formally commissioned in February 2009, the Renewable Energy Division at 3M (St. Paul, MInn.) briefed the trade press in July on numerous division developments during the past 18 months. Launched during the depths of the recent recession, the new task group has redirected and recombined the efforts of select scientists and engineers within a number of 3M’s 45 existing core product development areas to provide solutions for the burgeoning market. The new division has two areas of concentration: Energy Generation and Energy Management.

One consequence of the move is the resuscitation of 3M’s composites focus. Once a strong 3M emphasis, the composites market was overshadowed in the past few years by R&D in 3M’s more traditional web materials (tape and film) emphasis. The one exception was 3M’s ACCR metal-matrix composite transmission cable product, which was introduced to the electric power industry (see HPC’s sister magazine, Composites Technology, June 2010, p. 17, or visit short.compositesworld.com/QfqQapD5). But Michael Roman, VP/GM of 3M’s Renewable Energy Div., notes that 3M’s contacts with “all the major wind energy players” indicate a great need for laminating resins and adhesives tailored to meet specific needs in rotor blade fabrication. Among the first products commercialized by the Energy Generation group is a matrix resin optimized for resin infusion of carbon-fiber-reinforced spars in wind turbine blades. Energy Generation business director Tracy Anderson says the nanoenhanced thermoset meets a growing need for weight reduction as blades get longer, particularly for offshore turbine placements, where blade manufacturers feel hard-pressed to “reduce the cost per kilowatt hour.” The company soon plans to release a new two-part epoxy adhesive tailored for joining molded infused blade halves. The adhesive, according to 3M advanced production engineer Greg Bluem, will exhibit a 40 percent reduction in exotherm and a better matchup of coefficient of thermal expansion, compared to conventional blade adhesives, thus reducing the risk of microcracking in joined blade shells.

3M Renewables reportedly is already 3M’s fastest-growing division, thanks, in part, to grants from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense totaling $30 million (USD). Roman noted that 3M already had five divisions involved in the renewables arena, focusing on fuel cell/battery technologies, the ACCR cable, and wind, solar and bio-fuels research. In January 2009, teams at manufacturing and laboratory sites worldwide were organized and formally folded into the new division under Roman’s leadership. As a result of their previous related work, the teams were able to hit the ground running. 3M expects that in 2010 the new division will account for 30 percent of the company’s new product introductions. By 2014, 3M hopes that margin will reach 40 percent.