Light construction in wind energy technology

Innovation impulses at “EXPERIENCE COMPOSITES – powered by JEC Group”

The giant CFRP rotor blade of a wind turbine located in front of the Messe Augsburg premises is already being touted as one of the trade fair highlights of this year. “EXPERIENCE COMPOSITES – powered by JEC group” is dedicating a separate showcase to the area of fibre composite applications in wind power generation. The wind power industry is a growing market for composite materials. Indeed, light construction and fibre composite technologies make wind energy systems even more future-proof and efficient, thus helping to reduce energy costs. Between 21st to 23rd September, clusters, companies, universities and research establishments will be presenting current projects and innovations to an industry audience from around the world. The joint project organised by Messe Augsburg, Carbon Composites e.V. and JEC Group has already gathered together a great international composites fan community even before the premiere.

Composites in wind energy

As early as 1957, under the guidance of wind energy pioneer, Professor Ulrich Hütter, the first rotor blades were used. These were made from glass-fibre reinforced plastics (GRP) and had a length of 17 metres. Even GROWIAN (Große Windenergieanlage) the great wind power plant which was once the largest wind converter on the plant, was constructed using GRP materials. In the early 70s, the serial production of GRP rotor blades was developed on small systems, starting in Denmark. In the initial phases, the achieved performance was approximately 10 Kilowatts. Today, we are able to attain magnitudes of 8 to 10 Megawatts. With the rotor dimensions achieved in these systems, the GRP of the rotor blades is increasingly being replaced by the lighter and more rigid carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP). In the wind power sector, fibre reinforced plastics or composites can also potentially be employed not just in rotor blades, but also in other components throughout the system, for example, in the tower or in generator shafts (e.g. the “FlexShaft”).  Rotor blades made from GRP and CFRP are spreading throughout the world at an increased rate.

Growth market wind energy: Success factors and opportunities

According to the European Wind Energy Association, 2015 alone saw the installation of 12,800 MW of wind energy capacity. This is an increase rate of 6.3 %. Rotor blades are currently up to 85 m in length and systems are up to 200 m in height. The basis for the further development of innovative materials in wind power systems is the further increase in the acceptance of regenerative power in politics and society. Further, there are still a range of potential optimisations that can be made in both the technologies and the materials themselves, for example, further developed materials (fibres and matrices, sandwich cores), in durability, quality, bird and lightning resistance, corrosion (especially in off-shore situations), erosion or recycling. Transportation properties, installation and maintenance have room for improvement and remote monitoring can be optimised further. Further development of composite materials may help to achieve some of these challenges. Besides, a number of these innovations and developments will be showcased on EXPERIENCE COMPOSITES next September.

The future of composites in wind energy

The most important challenge is to build large rotor blades (70 to 90 m) and to increase performance and the aerodynamic effectiveness of the blades whilst reducing costs. In doing so, bearing-free rotors must be developed, CFRP manufacturing processes must optimised, the blade manufacturing process must be automated and integrated health monitoring must be implemented. Innovations and pilot projects are, on the one hand, large-scale systems (off-shore and for areas of low wind), the use of wind power for hydrogen generation and the manufacturing of methane gas by way of the reaction between CO2 and water. Great potential lies in the further development of so-called “smart blades”, intelligent rotor blades which are able to adapt to the wind. These topics will be precisely discussed during the Symposium session dedicated to Composites in Wind Energy on Wednesday 21 September, 2016 with speakers from MECA, Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology IWES Northwest, TU Dresden, the University of Stuttgart or again the Institute of Steel and Wood Construction and WindEnergie.

Trend: Use of CFRP

Christoph Kensche, specialist for wind power systems at the Carbon Composites e.V. summarises a potential scenario: “In future, even our sector will encompass an increased use of CFRP. Carbon fibre-reinforced plastics make it possible to create even larger and better optimised rotor blades for wind power systems. Automated manufacturing processes will be further developed to reduce costs and improve quality. Further, performance, aerodynamics and aeroacoustics will also be improved. And we will have large, divided blades which will enable the challenges of transportation and installation to be solved more easily. It may also be possible to create towers made from carbon concrete. Franz Weißgerber from Carbon-Werke Weißgerber adds: “Most of the CFRP used in the world today is used in rotor blades. In the construction of rotor blades, much emphasis is placed on recycling. Every step we take brings us closer to the acceptance of the technology.”


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