The efficiency of wind turbine blades is key to improving the efficiency of this sustainable energy source. Research taking place at The University of Nottingham into the construction and composition of these blades is being showcased in a major exhibition at London’s Science Museum.
The Technology Strategy Board-funded, three-year AIRPOWER project brings together aerospace, composites and wind energy experts from companies such as Gamesa, BAE Systems and Hexcel Composites to develop more efficient, less wasteful methods of constructing wind turbines.
The Polymer Composites Group in the Faculty of Engineering is looking at how current aerospace technology can be adapted to achieve this. Currently, blade manufacture is the bottle-neck in wind turbine production. Slow production methods mean that blades are not being manufactured quickly enough to satisfy the demands of the fast-growing wind energy industry.
The current processes are labour intensive — which can lead to human error — and have appreciable levels of waste.
The team discovered that by using automated tape laying (ATL) technology to lay composite materials in blade construction, there could be an eight per cent cost saving per blade. This could equate to a £2.3m annual saving for a wind turbine factory.
Examples of the new construction process are on display at the Science Museum as part of an exhibition entitled Fast Forward: 20 ways F1™ is changing our world. The exhibition examines how technology developed in the motorsport — which has strong links to the aerospace industry — translates into innovative applications outside of the sport.
Other items featured in the exhibition include a McLaren Show Car — built by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for the 2006 racing season, it is made up of over 11,000 components and took sixteen months to put together — and the Baby Pod II, a new F1™-inspired solution to the problems encountered when transporting seriously ill babies to and from hospital because of the weight of traditional metal incubators. Baby Pod II is a self-contained structure similar in design to the driver’s cockpit made from materials light enough to allow the carrier to be placed in a wide variety of vehicles from cars to helicopters.
Dr Peter Schubel is leading the University’s involvement in the AIRPOWER project. His team is examining the development of the composite materials used in blade manufacture and how fibre optic sensors can be used to monitor residual strain levels in the blades during production.
“This project is unique in terms of the University’s links with the wind energy industry. We’re the only British university to work with Gamesa, which is one of the world’s largest wind energy companies. The project will not only improve the construction process, it will allow us to monitor how these materials change during production,” he said. “This exhibition is an excellent chance to showcase the work we’re doing. It’s important that members of the public understand the work going on behind the scenes to improve sustainable energy sources — the Science Museum is the perfect venue.”
The AIRPOWER project, which began in September 2007, will also develop a seven metre section of a turbine blade to be used as a demonstrator to show case the developed ATL and fibre optic technology. After large scale structural testing, the blade section will be on show within the Faculty of Engineering. The fibre optic technology developed by the project team will be featured, allowing students to see the stresses and strains produced by applying pressure to the structure.
There are also plans in place to build a 15m-high test turbine at Sutton Bonington. Research into new blade shapes, turbine designs and electronics will be tested on the equipment. The turbine is expected to go up in December.
“The test turbine isn’t full size,” added Dr Schubel. “But all of the test designs will scale up to the real thing.”
For more information on the project visit www.windturbinecomposites.co.uk, for more information on the exhibition visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.