Wind turbine blades

From Cargo Handbook - the world's largest cargo transport guidelines website
Infobox on Wind turbine blades
Example of Wind turbine blades
Wind turbine blades.jpg
Origin -
Stowage factor (in m3/t) -
Humidity / moisture -
Ventilation -
Risk factors See text

Wind turbine blades

Description / Application

Wind turbine design is the process of defining the form and specifications of a wind turbine to extract energy from the wind. A wind turbine installation consists of the necessary systems needed to capture the wind's energy, point the turbine into the wind, convert mechanical rotation into electrical power, and other systems to start, stop, and control the turbine.

This article covers the design of horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT) since the majority of commercial turbines use this design.

In addition to aerodynamic design of the blades, design of a complete wind power system must also address design of the hub, controls, generator, supporting structure and foundation. Further design questions also arise when integrating wind turbines into electrical power grids.

Power control

A wind turbine is designed to produce a maximum of power at a wide spectrum of wind speeds. All wind turbines are designed for a maximum wind speed, called the survival speed, above which they do not continue. The survival speed of commercial wind turbines is in the range of 40 m/s (144 km/h, 89 MPH) to 72 m/s (259 km/h, 161 MPH). The most common survival speed is 60 m/s (216 km/h, 134 MPH). The wind turbines have three modes of operation:

  • Below rated wind speed operation
  • Around rated wind speed operation (usually at nameplate capacity)
  • Above rated wind speed operation

If the rated wind speed is exceeded the power has to be limited. There are various ways to achieve this.

A control system involves three basic elements: sensors to measure process variables, actuators to manipulate energy capture and component loading, and control algorithms to coordinate the actuators based on information gathered by the sensors.

Modern large wind turbines are variable-speed machines. When the wind speed is below rated, generator torque is used to control the rotor speed in order to capture as much power as possible. The most power is captured when the tip speed ratio is held constant at its optimum value (typically 6 or 7). This means that as wind speed increases, rotor speed should increase proportionally. The difference between the aerodynamic torque captured by the blades and the applied generator torque controls the rotor speed. If the generator torque is lower, the rotor accelerates, and if the generator torque is higher, the rotor slows down. In below rated wind speeds, the generator torque control is active while the blade pitch is typically held at the constant angle that captures the most power, fairly flat to the wind. In above rated wind speeds, the generator torque is typically held constant while the blade pitch is active.

There are different size classes of wind turbines. The smallest having power production less than 10 kW are used in homes, farms and remote applications whereas intermediate wind turbines (10-250 kW ) are useful for village power, hybrid systems and distributed power. The largest wind turbines (660 kW – 2+MW) are used in central station wind farms, distributed power and community wind.

Typical modern wind turbines have diameters of 40 to 90 metres (130 to 300 ft) and are rated between 500 kW and 2 MW. As of 2011 the most powerful turbine Enercon E-126 is rated at 7.5 MW.


The ratio between the speed of the blade tips and the speed of the wind is called tip speed ratio. High efficiency 3-blade-turbines have tip speed/wind speed ratios of 6 to 7. Modern wind turbines are designed to spin at varying speeds. Use of aluminium and composite materials in their blades has contributed to low rotational inertia, which means that newer wind turbines can accelerate quickly if the winds pick up, keeping the tip speed ratio more nearly constant. Operating closer to their optimal tip speed ratio during energetic gusts of wind allows wind turbines to improve energy capture from sudden gusts that are typical in urban settings.

In contrast, older style wind turbines were designed with heavier steel blades, which have higher inertia, and rotated at speeds governed by the AC frequency of the power lines. The high inertia buffered the changes in rotation speed and thus made power output more stable.

The speed and torque at which a wind turbine rotates must be controlled for several reasons:

  • To optimize the aerodynamic efficiency of the rotor in light winds.
  • To keep the generator within its speed and torque limits.
  • To keep the rotor and hub within their centrifugal force limits. The centrifugal force from the spinning rotors increases as the square of the rotation speed, which makes this structure sensitive to overspeed.
  • To keep the rotor and tower within their strength limits. Because the power of the wind increases as the cube of the wind speed, turbines have to be built to survive much higher wind loads (such as gusts of wind) than those from which they can practically generate power. Since the blades generate more torsional and vertical forces (putting far greater stress on the tower and nacelle due to the tendency of the rotor to process and notate) when they are producing torque, most wind turbines have ways of reducing torque in high winds.
  • To enable maintenance. Since it is dangerous to have people working on a wind turbine while it is active, it is sometimes necessary to bring a turbine to a full stop.
  • To reduce noise. As a rule of thumb, the noise from a wind turbine increases with the fifth power of the relative wind speed (as seen from the moving tip of the blades). In noise-sensitive environments, the tip speed can be limited to approximately 60 m/s (200 ft/s).

It is generally understood that noise increases with higher blade tip speeds. To increase tip speed without increasing noise would allow reduction the torque into the gearbox and generator and reduce overall structural loads, thereby reducing cost. The reduction of noise is linked to the detailed aerodynamics of the blades, especially factors that reduce abrupt stalling. The inability to predict stall restricts the development of aggressive aerodynamic concepts.

The hub

In simple designs, the blades are directly bolted to the hub and hence are stalled. In other more sophisticated designs, they are bolted to the pitch mechanism, which adjusts their angle of attack according to the wind speed to control their rotational speed. The pitch mechanism is itself bolted to the hub. The hub is fixed to the rotor shaft which drives the generator through a gearbox. Direct drive wind turbines (also called gearless) are constructed without a gearbox. Instead, the rotor shaft is attached directly to the generator, which spins at the same speed as the blades.

Blade count

The determination of the number of blades involves design considerations of aerodynamic efficiency, component costs, and system reliability. Noise emissions are affected by the location of the blades upwind or downwind of the tower and the speed of the rotor. Given that the noise emissions from the blades' trailing edges and tips vary by the 5th power of blade speed, a small increase in tip speed can make a large difference.

Wind turbines developed over the last 50 years have almost universally used either two or three blades. However, there are patents that present designs with additional blades, such as Chan Shin's Multi-unit rotor blade system integrated wind turbine. Aerodynamic efficiency increases with number of blades but with diminishing return. Increasing the number of blades from one to two yields a six percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency, whereas increasing the blade count from two to three yields only an additional three percent in efficiency. Further increasing the blade count yields minimal improvements in aerodynamic efficiency and sacrifices too much in blade stiffness as the blades become thinner.

New wind turbine designs push power generation from the single megawatt range to upwards of 10 megawatts using larger and larger blades. A larger area effectively increases the tip-speed ratio of a turbine at a given wind speed, thus increasing its energy extraction. Computer-aided engineering software such as HyperSizer (originally developed for spacecraft design) can be used to improve blade design.

As of 2013, production wind turbine blades are as large as 120 meters in diameter with prototypes reaching 160 meters. In 2001, an estimated 50 million kilograms of fibreglass laminate were used in wind turbine blades.

Manufacturing blades in the 40 to 50 metre range involves proven fibreglass composite fabrication techniques. Manufactures such as Nordex and GE Wind use an infusion process. Other manufacturers use variations on this technique, some including carbon and wood with fibreglass in an epoxy matrix. Options also include prepreg fibreglass and vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding. Each of these options use a glass-fibre reinforced polymer composite constructed with differing complexity. Perhaps the largest issue with more simplistic, open-mould, wet systems are the emissions associated with the volatile organics released. Pre-impregnated materials and resin infusion techniques avoid the release of volatiles by containing all reaction gases. However, these contained processes have their own challenges, namely the production of thick laminates necessary for structural components becomes more difficult. As the preform resin permeability dictates the maximum laminate thickness, bleeding is required to eliminate voids and insure proper resin distribution. One solution to resin distribution a partially pre-impregnated fibreglass. During evacuation, the dry fabric provides a path for airflow and, once heat and pressure are applied, resin may flow into the dry region resulting in a thoroughly impregnated laminate structure.

Epoxy-based composites have environmental, production, and cost advantages over other resin systems. Epoxies also allow shorter cure cycles, increased durability, and improved surface finish. Prepreg operations further reduce processing time over wet lay-up systems. As turbine blades pass 60 metres, infusion techniques become more prevalent; the traditional resin transfer moulding injection time is too long as compared to the resin set-up time, limiting laminate thickness. Injection forces resin through a thicker ply stack, thus depositing the resin where in the laminate structure before gelatin occurs. Specialized epoxy resins have been developed to customize lifetimes and viscosity.

Carbon fibre-reinforced load-bearing spars can reduce weight and increase stiffness. Using carbon fibres in 60 metre turbine blades is estimated to reduce total blade mass by 38% and decrease cost by 14% compared to 100% fibreglass. Carbon fibres have the added benefit of reducing the thickness of fiberglass laminate sections, further addressing the problems associated with resin wetting of thick lay-up sections. Wind turbines may also benefit from the general trend of increasing use and decreasing cost of carbon fibre materials.

Shipment / Storage / Risk factors