Iowa Wind Lab Gets Picky With Turbine Blades

Iowa State University’s Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory aims to reduce the cost of wind power to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) by 2020. And it intends to do so one wind turbine blade at a time. Researchers at the lab say that the low-cost manufacturing systems they are developing can enable turbine blade factories to build bigger, more durable blades, and improve their productivity by as much as 35 percent.

The laboratory itself houses equipment like lasers and ultrasound, enabling researchers to make precise 3-D measurements of wind turbine blades, analyze blade edges for maximum efficiency and even measure the amount of glue holding the two halves of a turbine blade together without cutting into it. While most wind turbine blades are currently built by hand; the research findings will enable the lab to develop new techniques to automate blade construction.

 

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image via Iowa State University

The facility was built as part of a three-year, $6.3 million joint effort of researchers from Scottsdale, Arizona-based wind turbine manufacturer TPI Composites and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Other lab partners include the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, the Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development and Iowa State’s Center for Industrial Research and Service.

Researchers say they hope to develop manufacturing methods that may one day be used in actual wind turbine blade factories. “In the early stages of the research there were a lot of investigations to understand all the problems we’re addressing,” said Matt Frank, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering. “But now we’re at that phase where real intellectual property is coming out of the lab.”

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).