Researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of thermoplastic resin and validated its structural integrity on a thermoplastic composite blade. The blades are currently manufactured using thermoset resin, which requires more energy and manpower in the manufacturing facility and the end product often ends up in landfills. Switching to thermoplastic resin would make wind turbine blades more recyclable and can also enable longer, lighter-weight, and lower-cost blades.
Current wind turbine blades are made primarily of composite materials, such as fiberglass, infused with a thermoset resin. With an epoxy thermoset resin, the manufacturing process requires additional heat to cure the resin, which adds to the cost and time to manufacture blades. Thermoplastic resin, however, cures at room temperature. The process does not require as much labor, which currently accounts for about 40% of the cost of a blade. The new process could make blades about 5% less expensive to make.
Researchers demonstrated the feasibility of the thermoplastic resin system by manufacturing a 9-meter composite wind turbine blade. They followed that demonstration by manufacturing and structurally validating a 13-meter thermoplastic composite blade compared to a near identical thermoset blade.
The thermoplastic material absorbs more energy from loads on the blades due to the wind, which can reduce the wear and tear from these loads to the rest of the turbine system. The thermoplastic resin could also allow manufacturers to build blades on site, alleviating a problem the industry faces as it trends toward larger and longer blades. As blade sizes grow, so does the problem of how to transport them from a manufacturing facility.