Green Composites

The latest eco innovations from the composites industry

GE has announced its intent to purchase LM Wind Power, a Denmark-based manufacturer and supplier of rotor blades to the wind industry.

The deal, which is expected to be worth $1.65 billion will improve GE’s ability to increase its energy output and create value for onshore and offshore customers. Since 2001, LM Wind Power has been owned by Doughty Hanson, a London-based private equity firm.

The acquisition is valued at 8.3 times pro forma earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) (2016 estimate). The transaction is subject to customary regulatory and governmental approvals and GE expects to close the transaction in the first half of 2017. GE expects the acquisition to be accretive to earnings in 2018.

As the cost of electricity from renewable sources continues to decline and nations pursue low-carbon forms of energy, renewable sources are gaining share in power generation capacity. In 2015, approximately 50% of all new electricity capacity additions were renewable energy sources, with wind representing 35% of that growth.

Following the closing of the deal, GE intends to operate LM Wind Power as a standalone unit within GE Renewable Energy and will continue to fully support all industry customers with the aim of expanding these relationships. GE will also retain the ability to source blades from other suppliers. LM Wind Power will continue to be led by its existing management team and be headquartered in Denmark, where it also maintains a global technology centre.

Fraunhofer researchers have partnered with industry experts to develop highly durable thermoplastic foams and composites that make the blades lighter and recyclable

Offshore wind turbines are becoming ever larger, and the transportation, installation, disassembly and disposal of their gigantic rotor blades are presenting operators with new challenges.

The trend toward ever larger offshore wind farms continues with some rotor blades measuring up to 80 metres in length with rotor diameters of over 160 metres. Since the length of the blades is limited by their weight, it is essential to develop lightweight systems with high material strength.

The lower weight makes the wind turbines easier to assemble and disassemble, and also improves their stability at sea. In the EU’s WALiD (Wind Blade Using Cost-Effective Advanced Lightweight Design) project, scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT in Pfinztal are working closely with ten industry and research partners on the lightweight design of rotor blades. By improving the design and materials used, they hope to reduce the weight of the blades and thus increase their service life.

These days, rotor blades for wind turbines are largely made by hand from thermosetting resin systems. These, however, don’t permit melting, and they aren’t suitable for material recycling. At best, granulated thermoset plastic waste is recycled as filler in simple applications.

Florian Rapp, the project coordinator at Fraunhofer ICT said;

In the WALiD project, we’re pursuing a completely new blade design. We’re switching the material class and using thermoplastics in rotor blades for the first time. These are meltable plastics that we can process efficiently in automated production facilities.

For the outer shell of the rotor blade, as well as for segments of the inner supporting structure, the project partners use sandwich materials made from thermoplastic foams and fibre-reinforced plastics. In general, carbon-fibre-reinforced thermoplastics are used for the areas of the rotor blade that bear the greatest load, while glass fibres reinforce the less stressed areas. For the sandwich core, Rapp and his team are developing thermoplastic foams that are bonded with cover layers made of fibre-reinforced thermoplastics in sandwich design. This combination improves the mechanical strength, efficiency, durability and longevity of the rotor blade.

The ICT foams provide better properties than existing material systems, thus enabling completely new applications – for instance in the automotive, aviation and shipping industries. In vehicles, manufacturers have been using foam materials in visors and seating, for example, but not for load-bearing structures.

The current foams have some limitations, for instance with regard to temperature stability, so they can’t be installed as insulation near the engine. Meltable plastic foams, by contrast, are temperature stable and therefore suitable as insulation material in areas close to the engine. They can permanently withstand higher temperatures than, for example, expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) or expanded polypropylene (EPP). Their enhanced mechanical properties also make them conceivable for use in door modules or as stiffening elements in the sandwich composite.

Yet another advantage is that thermoplastic foams are more easily available than renewable sandwich core materials such as balsa wood. These innovative materials are manufactured in the institute’s own foam extrusion plant in Pfinztal.

The process involves melting the plastic granules, mix a blowing agent into the polymer melt and foam the material. The foamed, stabilised particles and semi-finished products can then be shaped and cut as desired. In the area of foamed polymers, the ICT foam technologies research group covers the entire thermoplastic foams production chain, from material development and manufacture of extrusion-foamed particles and semi-finished products to process media and finished components.

The researchers will be presenting a miniature wind turbine made from the new foams and composites at the K 2016 trade fair in Düsseldorf from October 19 to 26.

Nova Innovations, a power company in Scotland has claimed a breakthrough in the race to create a viable offshore tidal station after successfully powering local homes on the island of Shetland.

The company has announced that it’s deployed the worlds first fully operational tidal power array in the Bluemull Sound in-between the islands of Unst and Yell in the north of Shetland. The Scottish tidal energy specialist installed the first Nova M100 turbine in the Bluemull Sound, Shetland in March 2016. The device has been generating up to full power and across all tidal conditions.

The second in a series of three 100 kW turbines was deployed alongside the first turbine in August 2016, making this the first offshore tidal array in the world to deliver electricity to the grid. Shetland Composites secured the 6 month contract to create the turbine blades which sit more than 100ft below the waves.

The Shetland isles are not connected to the UK grid and get most of their electricity from a diesel power station. Despite having some of the worlds strongest winds, thousands of islanders campaigned against a scheme backed by the local council to build the 370MW wind-farm, involving 103 turbines erected on the main island. The scheme won legal approval in 2015 but is waiting for the UK government to make an announcement of new supply deals.

Nova say the two turbines installed so far were operating at 40% of their capacity, and hope its turbines, cofunded by the Belgian renewables company ELSA will be sold worldwide now they have been proven.

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using bamboo fibre in 3-D printing experiments to determine whether bio-based feedstock materials are feasible in additive manufacturing.

Chopped bamboo fibres were added to a bio-polymer resin to create bamboo-based pellets, resulting in a more sustainable material that can be used for manufacturing moulds, prototypes, appliances and furniture. The research team 3-D printed a table that contains 10 percent bamboo fibre composite.

Researchers behind the experiments developed 10% and 20% bamboo PLA composites which are 100% bio-based and fully sustainable. Structural and environmental benefits behind bamboo make it and interesting option for additive manufacturers, who could use the newly developed pellets as a substitute for more traditional printing materials.

Researchers are investigating the use of different types of cellulose fibres to develop feedstock materials with better mechanical performance that can increase the number of available composites and opportunities for sustainable practices.

There is an increasing need to find new alternatives for crude oil based materials such as plastics. Wood plastic composites (WPCs) are natural fibre composites with properties of both plastic and wood. These composites are used, for example, in buildings and in the manufacture of automobiles. It is estimated that the production of WPCs will experience an annual growth of 14% between 2014 and 2019.

Wood and plastics are very different materials in terms of their chemical properties, which is why additives are used in WPCs to enhance the compatibility of these constituents. Additives are also used to improve composites’ water absorbing and weather resistance properties, among other things. However, some additives are rather expensive and their incorporation into WPCs is not straightforward. Thus, WPCs are in need of novel and effective additives that are based on renewable resources.

In the study, liquid by-products generated from biochar production and heat treatment of wood were added to WPCs, and the effects of the additions on the composite properties were analysed. The findings have relevance for two different industries as the wood industry by-products are more extensively used in the WPC industry.

The findings of the study show that liquids separated from wood can be added to WPC granulates using the method developed in the study. Composites treated with liquids performed better in injection moulding and the samples of each material type were very homogeneous. Furthermore, the addition of liquids extracted from wood significantly reduced the water absorption of the composites and in some cases improved their mechanical properties.

The study also examined the suitability of PTR-MS for analysing the amounts of VOCs released from WPCs. The advantages of the method include a short analysis time and the opportunity to monitor the release of VOCs in real-time. The study suggests that PTR-MS is a suitable method for analysing the amount of VOCs released from WPCs.

Clear and consistent differences between different WPCs and amounts of VOCs released were found using PTR-MS. For example, significant amounts of VOCs were released right after manufacturing. The amounts of VOCs released grew after the addition of liquid by-products from biochar production and heat treatment of wood; however, the emission levels of harmful compounds did not increase to a level that would be hazardous.

Siemens will receive newly issued shares of the combined company and will hold 59% of the share capital while Gamesa’s existing shareholders will hold 41%. As part of the merger, Siemens will fund a cash payment of €3.75 per share, which will be distributed to Gamesa’s shareholders (excluding Siemens) immediately following the completion of the merger (net of any ordinary dividends paid until completion of the merger). The cash payment represents 26% of Gamesa’s unaffected share price at market close on January 28, 2016.

Additionally Gamesa and Areva have entered into contractual agreements whereby Areva waives existing contractual restrictions in Gamesa’s and Areva’s offshore wind joint venture Adwen simplifying the merger between Gamesa and Siemens. As part of these agreements, Gamesa – in alignment with Siemens-grants Areva a put option for Areva’s 50% stake and a call option for Gamesa’s 50% stake in Adwen. Both options expire in three months. Alternatively, Areva can in this time divest 100% of Adwen to a third party via a drag-along right for Gamesa’s stake.

The new company, which will be consolidated in Siemens’ financial statements, is expected to have on a pro forma basis (last twelve months as of March 2016) a 69 GW installed base worldwide, an order backlog of around €20 billion, revenue of €9.3 billion and an adjusted EBIT of €839 million. The combined company will have its global headquarters in Spain and will remain listed in Spain. The onshore headquarters will be located in Spain, while the offshore headquarters will reside in Hamburg, Germany, and Vejle, Denmark.

The two businesses are highly complementary in terms of global footprint, existing product portfolios and technologies. The combined business will have a global reach across all important regions and manufacturing footprints in all continents. Siemens’ wind power business has a strong foothold in North America and Northern Europe, and Gamesa is well positioned in fast-growing emerging markets, such as India and Latin America, and in Southern Europe. Further, the transaction will result in a product offering covering all wind classes and addressing all key market segments to better serve customers’ needs.

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