On the Fast Track: Leading Edge Protection of wind turbine blades

Offshore power production is developing at full speed – and when bigger equals better, an increased rotor blade length is a winner. However, the industry’s demand for longer wind turbine blades creates significant challenges for safeguarding them in harsh weather conditions. Siemens Gamesa’s Surface Treatment and Corrosion team has joined several industry experts in the Fast track project – an initiative supported by Innovation Fund Denmark – to improve material competences, develop cutting-edge protective coating solutions, save maintenance costs, and extend the lifetime of wind turbine blades. 


A high-speed challenge

The global importance of wind power has led to greater demands for green energy production over the past few years. Constant innovation and improved power generation efficiency are reflected in wind turbine designs that feature an increase in size and rotor blade length – especially for offshore wind. 

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Longer blades have higher tip velocity, which often exceeds 350 km/h out at sea. Strong offshore winds accelerate water drops and particles that meet the leading edge of the wind turbine blade in extremely high speed. This mechanical impact results in severe material degradation over time - harsh weather conditions cause coating surface erosion, which lowers the turbine’s annual energy production. Erosion is one of the most critical degradation mechanisms occurring on wind turbine blades, as it requires non-operational downtime due to costly on-site repair work. 

Coating systems are the central factor for protecting the blade from erosion. Today’s solution consists of glass fibre reinforced epoxy (GFRE) protected by a paint system, but it degrades rapidly within two to seven years of the turbine’s operation. Hence, the industry is looking for new ideas to improve leading edge protection (LEP) that can both withstand physical impact and protect the blade coating in the long run.  

The Fast Track Project: an easy access to the right experts

Given the industry’s need for solutions to material challenges, the Fast Track project created a systematic model for partnering between several enterprises; Siemens Gamesa, Hempel, Terma, Elplatek, FORCE Technology, and the knowledge institutions; DTU, Aalborg University, and Teknologisk Institut. The project’s philosophy is simple: putting the right people across technology fields together to allow for effective solutions within material engineering. 

The Fast Track project supports a range of material research and development initiatives by providing companies across Denmark with research assistance and equipment. A dedicated team of experts ensures implementable solutions, developed on a fast track timeline of less than six months. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of advanced equipment facilities in Denmark, promote industry competitiveness, and create more jobs related to advanced material processing in the country. The Fast Track project kicked off in 2016 and is expected to finalize in the summer of 2019, covering several different material research sub projects.  

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Improvements on the way

One of the subprojects supported by Fast Track is Siemens Gamesa’s partnership with FORCE Technology, Hempel, DTU, and Aalborg University, focused on a deeper understanding of LEP for wind turbine blades. The subproject’s goal is to investigate material properties and erosion mechanisms through novel characterization methods, combining analysis of failure modes with real-life experience, accelerated testing, and lifetime modelling.

Kasper Bondo Hansen, Head of Surface Treatment and Corrosion, explains: “With this project, we would like to free ourselves from conventional thinking and be open to innovative ideas. Rethinking today’s possibilities from a materials and processing point of view would allow us to set new standards and, if possible, redefine the concept of leading edge protection. We know that the next generation of blades will inherently possess better properties, so promoting a competitive material process environment across the wind power industry is a stepping stone for future innovation – something that Siemens Gamesa will embrace and lead.“ 

“Our Surface Treatment and Corrosion team is currently working on the task to collaboratively develop a new standard corrosion protection for offshore and subsea components,” says Ane Saelland Christiansen, Specialist Engineer, Surface Treatment and Corrosion. “Hopefully, Fast Track deliverables will be successfully incorporated into new product coating processes. We would also like to establish standardization and certification for more suitable product and process specifications, new methods of assessing adhesion strength, and setting up a new competitive long-term LEP solution in place. We are all very excited to keep you posted about our Fast Track progress. It will definitely make a difference, so stay tuned!”