Wind turbine blade leading-edge erosion is one of the key challenges the offshore wind industry is facing. Erosion can reduce the annual energy production of a wind turbine by between 4% and 20%, entailing annual production losses ranging from about €130m to €690m across the European offshore wind sector. The severity of the problem has increased in recent years due to the scale of modern turbines, which have higher tip speeds approaching 300 km/h.
The combination of larger turbines, poor access for maintenance and harsh weather conditions significantly increase offshore wind turbine repair costs. Developing technology that prevents blade erosion is at the core of LEAPWind project objectives and represents the way to overcome a critical barrier to the more rapid market uptake of offshore wind energy. Preventing blade erosion will increase uptime and productivity, whilst eliminating the need for costly blade repairs.
LEAPWind project aims to commercialise a novel leading-edge wind-blade component that prevents blade erosion by employing advanced composite materials and innovative manufacturing processes. The project, coordinated by a well-established manufacturer of wind blades, Eire Composites, developed a protective coating for blades leading-edge that is thermoplastic, recyclable, UV resistant, thermoformable and with good energy absorption and that can eliminate the current need of blade maintenance every 5 years.
The project pitched at the European Maritime Day on 20 May 2021 and aims at increasing market’s awareness on the benefit of this new technology, having the potential of reducing repair costs by 20% (the project's pitch at EMD 2021 can be watched here under Pitch Stage I "Bringing Blue/Green innovations to market" at minute 24:34).
Full-scale laboratory testing and on-going operational trials are showing excellent results and performance. Commercial trials are already planned with an existing customer, SD Wind Energy, which tested LEAPWind blades on harsh environments including Antarctica and offshore oil platforms.
Next steps will be to further commercialise the LEAPWind technology and to spin it out into a separate entity, gaining market traction and continuing operational trials, especially in severe marine conditions. To that end, support from investors would play a key role.