Tougher materials for bigger turbines

The Danish wind turbine company Vestas is teaming up with Australian scientists to develop stronger carbon fibre composite materials to be used in reinforcing turbine blades.

Vestas has funded two years of research at Deakin University’s Carbon Nexus facility in Geelong into strengthening carbon fibre.

The investment is part of a project to build two wind farms in Victoria that together will deliver more than 500 megawatts, enough to power 350,000 homes.

“Carbon fibre is very strong in tension, but actually quite weak in compression,” says Professor Russell Varley at Deakin.

“That limits the length of wind turbine blades to 80 or 90 metres—but longer blades could catch even more wind and generate more power.”

Wind turbine blades are the most significant use of carbon fibre, accounting for 40% of all production.

“Vestas is the biggest user of carbon fibre in the world,” says Neville Gall, who is managing the Victorian project for the Danish company.

“We’ve made a commitment to develop the industry here, from assembling our turbine hubs in a decommissioned Ford factory to research into materials and other technology,” Neville says.

Work has begun on assembling the first of a planned 100 turbine hubs—each the size of a 4WD and weighing more than 30 tonnes—and two new researchers have hit the labs at Carbon Nexus.

“Vestas has been an amazing partner,” says Russell. “Beyond just funding, they have helped us make connections all over the world with producers and users of carbon fibre and composites.”

Banner image: Wind turbines. Credit: Shutterstock