66 projects were included among the ARPA-E grants, and GE’s newly designed wind turbine blades that use a special coating fabric are one of them. GE has made public the manufacturing of fabric wind turbine blades, which are a lot cheaper than the regular ones.
The original concept of the blades will remain, but instead of the fiberglass coating, this new model will have a strong architectural fabric wrapped around the frame of each blade.
As GE specialists said, the cost of these new type fabric coated blades will be 40% cheaper than the production costs of regular fiberglass blades. By this move, wind energy will get a lot cheaper – so cheap it could enter the competition with fossil fuels. The new coating is also much lighter, so it will be possible to manufacture longer blades to catch more wind energy.
The GE press release reveals some important information, such as “GE’s research will focus on the use of architectural fabrics, which would be wrapped around a metal space frame, 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.”
Using regular wind blades for catching wind energy is limited by regulations regarding the weight, the transportation from the manufacturing site and financial issues. The manufacturing costs for large fiberglass blades gets up to a few millions. By embracing this new technology, there is the opportunity to build the blades on-site and reduce the manufacturing and transportation costs considerably.
With the use of this type of lightweight fabric as a coating material, it will be possible to build bigger and a lot lighter wind turbines. By reducing the weight of the wind turbine and the blades, wind energy can be generated from much slower wind speed as well.
Talking about long term development, this new technology will allow wind turbines to be placed into regions with moderate wind power, such as the Midwest. This is an expansion of wind power that was not really possible until now.
These newly designed fabric blades made by GE have a long lifespan, with no need for maintenance for 20 years. So this fabric coating technology can be the door opener of a new era in the manufacturing of wind-catching blades. With costs reduced, and long lasting materials used for the framing, wind energy will be a viable source even in regions where wind power was unused until now.