A researcher at Case Western University recently developed a wind turbine blade that is lighter and stronger than conventional prototypes. Increasing the size of wind turbines in order to increase their energy capacity has been difficult, since the parts become too heavy and prone to damage when enlarged. Now Case Western has created a new composite material made from a polyurethane base reinforced with carbon nanotubes that is lighter and eight times tougher than the material currently used to create wind turbine blades.
“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. The turbine blade was built by Marcio Loos, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, with the help of his Case Western colleagues.
Loos used a commercial template to build a 29-inch blade that is lighter and stronger than any blades currently on the market. “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. Current large blade turbines are heavy, more wind is needed to turn them, and they spin less, which produces less energy. They are also prone to flexing in the wind, which also causes them to capture less energy than they potentially could. Loos’ blade — which was tested on a 400-watt turbine — promises to solve these problems, and his Case Western team is looking to use their turbine as an industry jumping point into carbon nanotube-reinforced turbines.