Wind meets Composites

Composites industry benefits from booming wind power sector

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  • Focus Day Wind at COMPOSITES EUROPE
  • CFRP increasingly used in booming wind energy sector

The wind energy sector is currently experiencing a strong upswing. The industry is growing rapidly both offshore and onshore – also benefiting the composites industry. At COMPOSITES EUROPE, held in Stuttgart from 6 to 8 November, the exhibitors will show how CFRP and GRP applications are advancing the wind industry. In addition, an entire day of the trade fair is dedicated to the topic of wind energy. Guided Tours, lecture forums and other networking opportunities give visitors the opportunity to learn more about the topic.

Numerous exhibitors at COMPOSITES EUROPE are already working successfully with companies from the wind power sector. Examples include GUNNAR, Hexion, Münch Chemie-International, NETZSCH-Gerätebau, SAERTEX, Solvay and Zoltek. Anyone wishing to obtain specific information on the subject at the trade fair can either visit the exhibitors themselves or join the free guided tours. Under the guidance of Hanno Fecke, the renowned wind power expert and program manager, exhibitors with a focus on solutions for the wind power industry will be approached. The number of participants is limited, therefore prior registration is required. In addition to what the exhibitors have to offer, the programme also provides trade visitors with lots of interesting information on the subject of wind power.

50% of GFP end up in wind power plants

The current Composites Market Report 2017 also provides information on developments in the wind energy sector, according to which sales rose by around 11.5% over the previous year, and demand by as much as 12.7%. The reasons for this lie in the further intensified efforts to advance the energy transition, but also in an increasing interest in large wind turbines. The willingness to implement climate targets across the board is growing, especially in Europe, and renewable energy sources will play an increasingly important role in this respect in the future. According to the market report, almost all the latest generation of large wind power models use significant volumes of carbon fibre composites. This applies above all to tension and compression chords.

According to the report, 1.118 million tonnes of GRP were produced in Europe in 2017. In addition, there is the GRP quantity, which originates from so-called infusion processes. "It can be assumed that an estimated 300,000 tons were produced throughout Europe. About half of this relatively large quantity will be used primarily for the construction of wind turbines," the experts calculate. The most common processes used in the processing of GRP for the wind power industry are still hand laminating and fibre spraying as well as RTM.

Some 30,000 wind power plants supply clean power for Germany

With an output of more than 5.3 GW, offshore wind turbines are making an ever greater contribution to ensuring Germany's security of supply. They supply clean electricity virtually around the clock. At the beginning of the year, representatives from the association presented the current development figures for offshore wind energy. According to an analysis by Deutsche WindGuard, a total of 1,169 turbines with an installed capacity of around 5,387 MW were connected to the grid as of December 31, 2017. According to the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), an expansion up to a capacity of 7.7 GW is legally possible by 2020.

The industry is also growing rapidly onshore. WindGuard has calculated a gross capacity increase of 5,333 MW or 1,792 turbines for 2017. This represents an increase of 15% compared to 2016, bringing the total number of onshore wind turbines on the grid to 28,675 at the turn of the year. For 2018, the associations expect an additional 3,500 MW. However, not only the new building, but also the modernisation of the plant park recorded strong momentum. According to BWE, a total of 387 wind turbines were dismantled last year and replaced by new, re-powered ones.

More and more CFRP in turbine blades

Fibre-reinforced plastics such as GRP and CFRP will gain in importance in the long term. This is the forecast of the authors of the study "Inventory of Lightweight Construction in Germany" published in 2015 by the VDI Centre for Resource Efficiency. A trend towards thermoplastic FRPs can currently be observed, which can also boast significant market shares.

Thus, wind energy represents an attractive future and growth market for lightweight construction. According to the experts, appropriate solutions could determine Germany's future competitiveness in wind power plants. Since most turbine blades are made of GRP and the turbine blades are becoming bigger and bigger with increasing power, a switch to CFRP is underway here. This makes wind turbines a major sales market for CFRP manufacturers. The key factor here is the automated production of turbine blades at competitive prices.

Longer turbine blades thanks to CFRP

According to the market research institute Ceresana, more and more countries – even beyond the developed industrialised countries of the western hemisphere – are investing massively in the expansion of wind power plants. This not only benefits the market for GRP. Longer turbine blades and thus more powerful wind turbines will be possible in the future, primarily through the use of CFRP. While this holds a great deal of potential, the disproportionate increase in costs caused by CFRP still sets limits here.

Another obstacle to the growth of composite materials in the wind energy sector is the fact that recycling technologies are not yet available for every material to the same extent. With the "Composite Recycling" developed in Germany in 2011, up to 60,000 tonnes of GRP from rotor blades can be efficiently recycled in terms of energy and material. As an alternative to fossil fuels, the process is used in cement plants because they have high energy requirements. In contrast, for CFRP no industrial processes for recycling have yet been developed.