NISKAYUNA, N.Y.—In a move that could put wind energy on equal economic footing with traditional fossil fuels, GE, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will begin work on a new blade design could reduce blade costs by 25 per cent to 40 per cent, making wind energy as economical as fossil fuels without government subsidies.
“The fabric we’re developing will be tough, flexible, and easier to assemble and maintain. It represents a clear path to making wind even more cost competitive with fossil fuels.” said Wendy Lin, a GE Principal Engineer and leader on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) project.
GE’s research will focus on wrapping architectural fabrics around a metal spaceframe resembling a fishbone. Fabric would be tensioned around ribs running the length of the blade.
Conventional wind blades are made of fiberglass, which is heavier and more labor and time-intensive to manufacture.
This advancement will speed development of larger, lighter turbines that capture more wind at lower wind speeds.
Design, manufacturing, assembly, and transportation constraints limit turbines with rotor diameters exceeding 120 meters. Fabric-based technology would eliminate these barriers.
It’s estimated that to achieve the national goal of 20 per cent wind power in the U.S., wind blades would need to grow by 50 per cent—virtually impossible given the size constraints imposed by current technology.
“Developing larger wind blades is the key to expanding wind energy into areas we wouldn’t think of today as suitable for harvesting wind power. Tapping into moderate wind speed markets, in places like the Midwest, will only help grow the industry in the years to come,” Lin said.
The $5.6M ARPA-E project will span three years. GE’s blade architecture will be built to achieve a 20 year life with no regular maintenance to tension fabrics required.