Blowin’ in the wind: Stronger, longer and lighter turbine blades made possible by chemistry

Imagine you’re a scientist standing in a laboratory next to a 100-ft turbine blade with a note that says, “Make it longer, make it stronger and, while you’re at it, make it lighter, too.” As it turns out, a development team led by Bayer MaterialScience (BMS), when presented with a blade and a challenge not unlike the one above, never broke a sweat. And the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is taking notice.

The Bayer scientists found that blades made with polyurethane chemistry, which boasts a number of versatile applications in furniture, packaging, transportation, and building and construction, performed dramatically better than conventional turbine blades used commercially today. The chemistry improved “fatigue life,” or the amount of time before a blade begins to crack or fail, as well as “fracture toughness,” or how well a blade resists fracturing once it becomes cracked.

Overall, the carbon nanotube reinforced polyurethane blades proved to be lighter than carbon fiber and aluminum, to possess five times the tensile strength of carbon fiber and more than 60 times that of aluminum, and to last about eight times longer than fiberglass resin. That makes it much easier for engineers to double the blade length and increase the area swept by the blades, producing four times more power than before.

Sharon Papke, head of the BMS Wind Energy team, said in a release:

We are proud of our achievement because it showcases Bayer’s ability to bring material solutions to solve unmet market needs. This development should make a significant contribution to wind power as a key component of sustainable energy.

In other words, the polyurethane-based composite technology could revolutionize operations for the wind power industry by providing longer, stronger and lighter blades. The DOE seems to be on board with it, inviting Bayer to display an important piece of its composite technology at the recent American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Off-Shore Windpower conference and exhibition in Baltimore, MD.

Challenges like these are presented frequently to America’s chemistry industry. Through technological advances and continued research and development, the chemistry industry and other players continue to work to transform how we produce and use energy. And, as advances like those from Bayer move forward, we become a few critical strides closer to creating a more sustainable, cost-conscious and low carbon society.

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