|[November 28, 2012]
GE Developing Wind Blades That Could Be the "Fabric" of Our Clean Energy Future
NISKAYUNA, N.Y. --(Business Wire)--
In a move that could put wind energy on equal economic footing with
traditional fossil fuels, GE (NYSE: GE), Virginia Polytechnic Institute
& State University (Virginia Tech), and the National Renewable Energy
Laboratory (NREL), will begin work on a project that could fundamentally
change the way wind blades are designed, manufactured and installed.
With most of the cost of electricity for wind tied up in the initial
capital investments made in the wind turbines themselves, new technology
advancements that reduce these costs could substantially lower the
overall cost of wind energy.
"GE's weaving an advanced wind blade that could be the fabric of our
clean energy future," said Wendy Lin, a GE Principal Engineer and leader
on the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency
(ARPA-E) project. "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."
According to GE, this new blade design could reduce blade costs 25%-40%,
making wind energy as economical as fossil fuels without government
GE's research will focus on the use of architectural fabrics, which
would be wrapped around a metal spaceframe, resembling a fishbone.
Fabric would be tensioned around ribs which run the length of the blade
and specially designed to meet the demands of wind blade operations.
Conventional wind blades are constructed out of fiberglass, which is
heavier and more labor and time-intensive to manufacture.
Advancements in blade technology will help spur the development of
larger, lighter turbines that can capture more wind at lower wind
speeds. Current technology doesn't easily allow for construction of
turbines that have rotor diameters exceeding 120 meters because of
design, manufacturing, assembly, and transportation constraints. Wider,
longer wind blades are tougher to move and maneuver, and molds which
form the clamshell fiberglass structure cost millions of dollars to
acquire. GE's new fabric-based technology would all but eliminate these
With this new approach to making wind blades, components could be built
and assembled on site, meaning design engineers no longer have to
concern themselves with manufacturing andtransportation limitations.
Taken together, these improvements will help reduce start-up costs and
the cost of wind-generated electric in general.
It's estimated that to achieve the national goal of 20% wind power in
the U.S., wind blades would need to grow by 50% -- a figure that would
be virtually impossible to realize given the size constraints imposed by
current technology. Lighter fabric blades could make this goal
"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 went on to
The use of fabrics to reduce weight and provide a cost-effective cover
dates back to the World War I era, when it was used on airplanes. Over
the years fabric has proved to be rugged and reliable and GE has already
begun using this spaceframe/tension fabric design in the construction of
wind towers for better aesthetics, cost, and protection.
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.
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