Nano tubes strengthen turbine future

By Colin Ricketts - 31 Aug 2011 16:5:0 GMT
Nano tubes strengthen turbine future

The larger a wind turbine is the more energy it can produce, but there's a problem: as the size grows so does the weight of the turbine blades which puts a limit on turbine size. Now a university researcher has found a new material to make lighter blades that are eight times tougher than the current best.

Marcio Loos is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering at Case Western Reserve University and worked with investigators from Bayer MaterialScience in Pittsburgh, and Molded Fiber Glass Co. in Ashtabula, Ohio, to try and find the best material for turbine blades.

Working on his own at weekends, Loos came up with the world's first polyurethane blade reinforced with carbon nanotubes.

"The idea behind all this is the need to develop stronger and lighter materials which will enable manufacturing of blades for larger rotors," Loos said.

Weight in a blade makes it harder for the wind to turn it, but using lighter materials that flex also causes a drop in potential energy capture.

"Results of mechanical testing for the carbon nanotube reinforced polyurethane show that this material outperforms the currently used resins for wind blades applications," said Ica Manas-Zloczower, professor of macromolecular science and engineering and associate dean in the Case School of Engineering.

Carbon nanotubes were five times stronger than carbon fibre and 60 times stronger than aluminium but weigh less than either. Loos' new material was also eight times more durable than epoxy reinforced with fibreglass, which is often used in current blade manufacture, and much less likely to fracture.

Now, further work on the make up of the new compound is going on, but the team are confident they have made a breakthrough in turbine manufacture.

Image Credit: Wind turbine © Joe Gough