One of the major hurdles facing the wind power industry, according to tech giant General Electric (GE), is the fact that turbine construction and maintenance can be cost-prohibitive in many cases. Now, recent announcement from the firm indicates that it is tackling this issue head-on by developing a fabric-based structure that could lower the expenses associated with turbine manufacturing by nearly 40 percent.
GE's project will be funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Advanced Research Projects Agency, with a price tag of around $5.6 million. The major component, the turbine blade, will be constructed using a metal frame and a wrap-around fabric that is manufactured to be super-strong. Traditional blades are made of fiberglass, which can be cumbersome and difficult to install, as well as expensive. The goal of the project is to develop a device that communities could use to generate electricity without the large cost associated with turbine installation.
"GE's weaving an advanced wind blade that could be the fabric of our clean energy future," Wendy Lin, a principal engineer for GE, said in a statement. "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."
An additional benefit from GE's initiative would be the creation of longer blades. According to the company, current models in excess of 120 meters are increasingly unstable and pose problems for operators, due primarily to the fiberglass construction. Making larger and more durable blades would increase the electricity production of existing turbines or allow for the construction of new ones capable of generating more kilowatts per hour.
While this developmental project isn't set to be completed for several years, there is little doubt that wind energy will become a larger and more important of our nation's energy landscape.