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A sustainable material for wind energy

Wood, an ecological alternative in the offshore eolic energy sector.

by Maria Pia Rossignaud
17 September 2020
4 min read
by Maria Pia Rossignaud
17 September 2020
4 min read

Producing renewable energy from sustainable materials could soon be a reality. In Gothenburg, Sweden, the industrial design company Modvion has designed and built the first wind turbine blade made almost entirely of wood. It could just be the standard bearer for a real revolution in the industry.

An alternative to the steel

The Swedish company has installed a 30 metre-high tower, built in layers with interlocking glulam components (apart from the turbine which, inevitably, is still steel). The strong point of this new construction method is that you can assemble the wind turbine on site instead of transporting it whole, as you would with a steel model.

Producing the steel used in today’s turbine towers means producing more CO2. In addition, their height of around 100 metres and minimum diameter at the base of 4.5 metres translate into enormous relocation costs, not to mention logistical difficulties. In Europe and North America (where the technology is most used) that makes the structures more expensive.

Wood, on the other hand, besides being a renewable and sustainable material, is much lighter than steel and can be transported in components, thus reducing transport costs. And that's not all. The trees used for the towers throughout their life cycle would absorb CO2, thus offsetting the gas emitted during their construction and transport. The result is a carbon-neutral wind turbine. Modvion is also considering using recycled wood, taking circularity to the next level in this hypothetical system for producing and recycling energy and materials.

New peaks for wind power

The potential to build on this research has not escaped the European Innovation Council, which has decided, through the European Commission, to allocate 6.5 million euros to the project. Modvion has stated that it will use these funds to build a commercial tower and a plant in the Gothenburg area, where this technology will become an industry. Otto Lundman, CEO of the company, spoke enthusiastically about the project at a press conference: "This is a major breakthrough that paves the way for the next generation of wind turbines. Laminated wood is stronger than steel... and by building in modules, the wind turbines can be taller... we also reduce carbon dioxide emissions in manufacturing.”

Wooden towers have the additional advantage of a modular structure that can easily be made higher than that of their steel counterparts. This opens the door to new experiments. According to some studies, a turbine mounted on a 140 metre-high tower, for example, can generate 33% more electricity than the same turbine on an 80 metre-high tower.

The 30 metre blade, built for the Chalmers University of Technology's wind power technology centre and installed in Gothenburg, is a one-to-five scale version of the traditional 150 metre model and is scheduled to be installed on a commercial scale in 2022.

The key role of continuous research

The construction of this new wind turbine, which has been a source of great interest both in Sweden and around the EU, was made possible by the support of the Västra Götaland regional council and the Swedish Energy Agency. Sara Fogelström, coordinator of the Swedish Wind Power Technology Centre (SWPTC) says on the Chalmers website: “For a university, it is unique to have access to a test wind turbine that is made to scale and equipped with that many different sensors. The ability to control and adjust the various parameters of the wind turbine enables new research opportunities.” The website goes on to say that “Within a couple of decades, wind power is expected to be the largest, or second largest, energy source for electricity generation in Sweden. It puts high demands on cost-effective and sustainable wind power turbines with high electricity generation. Integrating wind turbines into the grid requires many different competences working together. Chalmers hosts the... Centre, which brings together players.”