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Sheffield-based firms develop solution to extend service life of offshore wind turbines

A new project looks set to significantly improve the performance of offshore wind turbines throughout their service life, by developing a novel system to protect the turbine blades from rain erosion.


The Leading Edge for Turbines (LEFT) project, part-funded by Innovate UK, is a two-year, £1m collaboration between Doncasters Bramah, a Sheffield-based specialist aerospace component manufacturer, and Performance Engineered Solutions (PES), an engineering design solutions business based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP).

The project is being supported by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult in Blyth, the UK’s leading technology innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy.

Rain erosion is currently the leading source of damage to offshore wind turbine blades and is caused by rain and wind hitting the blades. Over time this erosion breaks down the protective coatings attached to the blades, exposing and eventually compromising the blade’s structure.

It is a significant issue for both turbine manufacturers and operators as they look to improve a blade’s operational life to match the 25-year active service life of the turbines.

Such blade erosion is now being reported within two years of a turbine’s operation offshore.

One North Sea windfarm has reported that the blades on all of its 270 turbines were severely eroded within six years; many requiring structural repairs to be carried out onshore.

The LEFT project sees Doncasters Bramah using their expertise in supplying leading edge erosion shields for civilian and military aircraft and helicopters, to solutions for the offshore wind industry. Meanwhile the PES engineers are applying their experience in component performance and composites optimisation on the project. In particular this includes their understanding of lightweight materials, and aerodynamic design.

Andrew Woods, business development manager at Doncasters Bramah said: “At Doncasters we have more than 20 years’ experience of producing electroformed metallic leading-edge protection solutions to the global aerospace industry. This project represents an exciting opportunity for us to cross-sectorise this knowledge and capability from aerospace into the growing offshore renewables market. Along with our partners on Project LEFT we aim to adapt and develop a lifetime protection solution to arguably one of the biggest problems in the offshore wind industry today.”

If successful, this project will lead to the introduction of a new product that provides significant benefits to the offshore wind industry. Research findings from the ORE Catapult show metallic strip protection performs better than the current used coating solutions which typically only have an operating life of 5-6 years.

The new metallic erosion shields are also estimated to save operators around £1.3m per turbine during a typical service life, removing the significant cost of repair operations and reducing the substantial risk operators face when carrying out these repairs in offshore locations. Prevention of leading-edge erosion will also help ensure that the turbines remain at peak rated capacity throughout their operating life of the turbine.

Together, these factors should help further reduce the unit cost per kW that the wind energy sector provides; ultimately benefiting the consumer as demand for green energy increases.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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