Innovation in Materials to Define Future of Onshore Wind Energy Market

The latest breed of wind turbines is decidedly lighter, stronger, and more efficient than its predecessors. While wind energy in itself might be a lucrative investment area, innovative materials for wind turbine manufacturing are touted as being the next multibillion-dollar opportunity.

Fresh studies validate this trend. Transparency Market Research, for instance, said in a recent study that the global onshore wind energy market had a valuation of US$89.3 bn as of 2013 and, at a CAGR of 29.6% between 2014 and 2020, will stand at US$898.0 bn by 2020. Yes, these figures substantiate the opportunities that lie in the global onshore wind energy market. But they also indicate the massive need for innovation to drive costs down to improve profitability in the face of an uptick in demand for energy, especially from renewable sources.

With onshore wind farms not having to endure conditions as hostile as offshore wind powers, lighter wind turbines and auxiliary components can help expedite the journey toward enabling wind energy to occupy a larger share in the energy consumption pie.

If Wind is to Exceed Expectations as Energy Provider, Wind Turbines Need Innovative Materials

Longer blades are now being regarded as a definite means to improve the productivity of wind turbines by giving them the ability to produce more power. Next-generation wind turbines will all likely have blades measuring 100 meters or more in length. However, longer blades naturally translate into more mass, adding to the overall weight of the wind turbine. This, obviously is an undesirable arrangement as it causes gravity to have a greater impact on the movement of the blades, rather than aerodynamics playing its part to help harness energy from wind.

The only way to counter this change, say wind energy experts, is by bringing about improvements to the way blades are designed. Even as this change brews, durability continues to remain an area of concern because even the slightest repair and maintenance tasks for onshore wind turbines can run into hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

Which Materials are Best for Lightweight Onshore Wind Turbines?

Innovation in materials is essential for better profitability because of the sheer volume of composites that the offshore and onshore wind energy industry uses. A study conducted by the University of Cambridge, for instance, found that the volume of composite materials used by wind turbine manufacturers is ten times higher than what the aerospace and car industries collectively use.

The materials science field seeing some exciting changes in the form of self-healing materials and 3D printed components is good news for the onshore wind energy market as well.

In recent years, fiber-reinforced composite materials have emerged as the most preferred materials for not just onshore, but also offshore wind turbines. Likewise, modern wind turbines could also see a spike in output with the deployment of self-healing polymers that can give the current generation of composites unprecedented strength and lightness. While carbon fiber holds immense potential, its costs have prohibited it from being perceived as a viable alternative. This presently makes glass fiber the preferred reinforcement material for onshore wind turbines.

Research is being conducted on the efficacy of thermoplastics in wind turbine manufacturing. However, it will be at least a couple of years more before a steep change in materials usage can be reported from the onshore wind energy and wind turbine market.


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