If all goes according to General Electric’s plans, the next generation of wind turbine blades will be wrapped in fabric. With a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) program, GE is developing a new fabric-covered wind turbine blade that the company says will perform just as well as conventional fiberglass blades, but can be manufactured at a much lower cost.
Apart from cost, the architectural fabric is much lighter than fiberglass, so the fabric-covered blades can be much longer than traditional ones. Longer blades mean more wind energy captured by the turbine.
“GE’s weaving an advanced wind blade that could be the fabric of our clean energy future,” said Wendy Lin, a GE Principal Engineer and leader on the ARPA-E project. “The fabric we’re developing will be tough, flexible, and easier to assemble and maintain. It represents a clear path to making wind even more cost competitive with fossil fuels.”
Additional benefits of the fabric technology cited by GE include a 20-year lifespan, during which no regular maintenance is required, and easier transportation, with the blades perhaps assembled on-site.