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Leading-edge protection for wind turbine blades

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PES engineers worked with industry partners on a research project to develop a novel leading-edge protection system that could protect wind turbine blades from rain erosion, whilst also paving the way for lighter wind turbine blades and drivetrains in the future.

The Leading Edge for Turbines (LEFT) project, part-funded by Innovate UK, was a two-year, £1 million collaboration between PES, Radius Aerospace (a Sheffield-based specialist aerospace component manufacturer), and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (the UK’s leading technology innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy).

The Project

Rain erosion is currently the leading cause of damage to wind turbine blades and is a particular issue offshore as blade lengths tend to be longer and tip rotation speeds higher than onshore wind turbines. It is a significant issue for both turbine manufacturers and owner/operators as they look to improve a blade’s operational life to match the 25-year active service life of the turbines.

After supplying leading edge erosion shields for use on civil and military helicopter and propeller blades for over 15 years, Radius was looking to adapt this solution for use on offshore wind turbines. Benchmark rain erosion testing has indicated that the nickel cobalt erosion shield could provide 30 years of erosion protection when continuously tested to offshore wind specifications. This solution could provide true lifetime protection against leading edge erosion.

PES engineers utilised their experience in adhesive technologies, to develop the solution with regards how the nickel cobalt protection would be bonded to the turbine blades. They also investigated how future wind turbine blade design could be optimised by integrating the design of nickel cobalt leading edges into the overall design and functionality of the blades.

Project benefits

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 ORE Catapult show metallic strip protection performs better than the current polymeric coatings and thermoplastic shields developed for this market, which typically have a maximum operating life of up to 16 years.
• Such an 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, estimated to save around £1.3m per turbine during a typical 25 year service life, removing significant cost of operations and infrastructure and more importantly reducing significant risk to operators when carrying out this activity in the field.
• Enabling this technology for the future with increased wind turbine output through higher blade tip speeds and other indirect mechanical sub-systems efficiency improvements, should ultimately lead to additional renewable energy capacity being fed into the UK grid.