Future Innovations from the Wind Blade Research Hub

Published 1 October 2020

The UK has a world-leading academic community in offshore renewable energy, representing a vital part of the UK knowledge base.  Universities not only carry out fundamental research, they are also at the centre of important skills provision, producing the engineers and business leaders of the future.

At ORE Catapult, we’re conducting some ground-breaking research that is set to progress and transform key areas of the offshore renewable energy sector. By combining our in-house researchers with university experts, our research hubs allow us to expand our existing research agenda, accessing a larger pool of academic expertise and facilities to carry out research on technologies at a lower Technology Readiness Level (TRL) than it normally would.

In the final installment of our Research Hub blog series, we explore the activities of our Wind Blade Research Hub.

Wind Blade Research Hub

The Wind Blade Research Hub (WBRH) marked the first major strategic academic collaboration between ORE Catapult and a UK university, in this case the University of Bristol. It is a £2.3 million, five-year research partnership that addresses key industry challenges in blade design and manufacture.

The WBRH is supporting turbine blade research that will reduce the cost of wind energy through cost reductions in capital and operational expenditure and increased energy yield. The work of the Research Hub is focused around the three overarching technical objectives of improving blade design, manufacturing and integrity, with each research project designed to address at least one objective and informed by the technology challenges identified in the Offshore Wind Innovation Hub’s roadmap for rotor innovation.

The WBRH aims to support seven doctoral students (PhD/EngD) as well as just under five years of post-doctoral research activity, with associated academic and industrial supervision, facilities access and oversight from senior academics and management.

Examples of some of our WBRH project are:

Case Study I: Novel aeroelastic tailoring methods via multi-disciplinary optimisation

As offshore wind turbines continue to grow at record pace, sizing, and hence cost, of many turbine components is defined by aerodynamic loads from the rotor. In order to reduce the cost of components, whilst increasing overall turbine size and power generating capacity, the WBRH is investigating how reducing aerodynamic loads, without severely impacting energy production, can minimise the levelised cost of energy (LCoE).

Aeroelastic tailoring allows wind turbine blades to passively alleviate loads, which is more often achieved by designing in structural bend-twist coupling into the blade structure, either by geometric (i.e. sweep) or material (i.e. fibre steering) means. Such load alleviation has the potential to reduce extreme fatigue loading on the blades, as well as other turbine components such as the drivetrain, tower and foundations. Additionally, it opens up the potential to increase the size of the rotor without the associated increase in loads, thus improving energy capture.

The breakthroughs in this project are twofold. Firstly, couplings from multiple sources will be considered for reducing the levelised cost of energy and, secondly, the variables related to coupling will be included in the whole turbine optimisation problem. The outcome will be a tool capable of doing preliminary aero-structural rotor-turbine design considering aeroelastic tailored blades.

Case Study II: Measurement and Understanding of Viscoelastic Wind Blade Erosion Coatings

Current rain erosion lifetime prediction models work generally well with homogeneous materials that undergo brittle failure. However, for highly elastic and viscoelastic materials, whose failure is not understood and whose properties currently cannot be measured, models cannot be improved to accurately predict the lifetime performance.

Therefore, state-of-the-art models are incapable of accurately predicting the effect of rain erosion on the lifetime of highly viscoelastic materials, which are currently being developed at an industrial level.

This project aims to develop a measurement technique to measure and develop an understanding of the viscoelastic response of the coatings in both the accelerated rain erosion test and the real-world turbine environment.

The knowledge gained about the material properties will inform industry of key/ideal materials, contribute to an improved RET testing methodology, and ultimately contribute towards improved lifetime prediction models for both the rain erosion testing and the offshore environment.

Learn more about the specific research projects that are taking place under the Wind Blade Research Hub here. To find out more information on all of our research hub activity, visit the Research section of our website or please get in touch.


Anna Southall, Academic Engagement Plan Manager