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A new research collaboration is utilising UK aerospace technology to develop a leading-edge protection system for offshore wind turbines. Improving protection for offshore wind turbine blades against erosion can significantly reduce turbine blade repair costs and loss of power production through maintenance downtime. It can also enable the development of longer, lighter turbine blades with higher tip speeds.
 
The Leading Edge for Turbines (LEFT) project, part-funded by Innovate UK, is a two-year, £1 million collaboration between Doncasters Bramah and Performance Engineered Solutions (PES), plus the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.
 
Doncasters Bramah is a specialist aerospace component manufacturer, which is applying its expertise in supplying leading edge erosion shields for aircraft and helicopters, to solutions for the offshore wind industry. Meanwhile the PES design engineers are utilising their experience in component performance and composites optimisation on the project.
 
Doncasters Bramah manufacture civil and military aerospace components and assemblies, utilising a variety of forming and fabrication processes. One of these processes is called electroforming, which is an electrodeposition based additive manufacturing process, similar in principal to electroplating. Parts are grown in a chemical bath onto a preformed mandrel to produce near net shape parts, removing the need for multi-stage forming operations associated with conventional metal forming techniques. Parts are typically electroformed in a nickel cobalt alloy, which has a high tensile and yield strength, as well as a high hardness value compared to titanium and stainless steel. This makes it ideal for producing lightweight erosion shields.
 
If successful, this project might lead to the introduction of a new product for the offshore wind industry:
  • Research findings from  ORE Catapult show metallic strip protection performs better than the current polymeric coatings and thermoplastic shields
    Advance in erosion performance would not only lead to the introduction of larger, lighter blades but also to reduced turbine nacelle sizes through smaller sub systems
  • Turbine operators will also see a significant cost benefit through reduced repair costs
  • Prevention of leading-edge erosion will also ensure that aerodynamic losses are not incurred from blade damage, therefore ensuring power generation remains at rated capacity throughout the life of the turbine. Wind tunnel tests show that such erosion corresponds to a 2.3% loss in annual energy production per turbine.
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